Audit targets ‘culture of abuse’ that wasted millions in cop overtime
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Chicago has wasted millions on police overtime because of an “unchecked culture of abuse” and “inefficient management” that failed to control costs, eliminate fraud or prevent officer fatigue, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded Tuesday.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson considered the audit so damaging to the department’s credibility, he rushed back to work to respond to the findings, even though he is still recovering from a kidney transplant five weeks ago.
Johnson argued that the strategy of using overtime to mask a manpower shortage had “run its course.”
He promised to hold supervisors accountable for overtime and conduct random audits to make certain they do. He also vowed to revise department directives governing overtime that have not been updated since 1994.
But Johnson rejected suggestions that his officers had engaged in “scams” to rack up more overtime.
“I wouldn’t categorize it as scams. We don’t know yet. That’s why you do an investigation,” Johnson said with Ferguson at his side.
“If a police officer at the end of his tour — let’s say 10 minutes before the end of his tour — and he drives past a DUI, do you think I’m really gonna say to him, ‘Ignore that DUI because it may take you into overtime?’ The answer is ‘no.’ I’m not going to do that. But can we better? Yes, we can.”
After examining police overtime from 2014 through the first six months of 2016, Ferguson found the Chicago Police Department’s operational controls full of holes or virtually nonexistent.
The alleged failures go well beyond the department’s painfully slow switch from paper-based to electronic timekeeping, which won’t be complete until mid-2019.
Management controls at the city’s largest department “do not adequately prevent unnecessary overtime, deter abuse … or ensure overtime is paid in compliance” with CPD policy, Ferguson said.
Neither are there policies in place to control costs, prevent “excessive overtime” that leads to officer fatigue or “detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse,” Ferguson said.
At a time when private companies and nearly every other city department has long since switched to electronic timekeeping, the Police Department is still stuck in the Dark Ages, spending $7.2 million a year on 61 “time-keepers” and an unknown number of sworn officers assigned to “time-keeping and data entry.”
Findings of the audit include:
- $266.8 million in “compensatory time” accumulated by and owed to Chicago Police officers is “supported only by hard copy documentation which, if damaged or destroyed, could not be recreated,” Ferguson wrote.
- 6,727 overtime entries “either duplicated or overlapped other entries,” triggering a “potential overpayment of $1.1 million.
- 99.4 percent of overtime entries totaling $225.5 million had “either blank or generic reason codes.” That makes it “extremely difficult,” if not impossible to determine whether the overtime was justified.
- Officers get a minimum of three hours of overtime for “as little as fifteen minutes of actual work,” thanks to a “minimum time provision” in the police contract that credits off-duty officers for travel to a work site. The guarantee was not limited to court and call back categories, resulting in $197,895 in “potential unwarranted overtime,” Ferguson said.
- The minimum time provision was also “inappropriately applied to officers answering or receiving phone calls or emails,” triggering at least $36,334 in “unwarranted” OT and potentially up to $1.2 million, the inspector general said.
- $27.6 million worth of overtime entries “lacked an electronic record of authorization and/or approval.” Nearly $1 million of that “appeared to be self-authorized or approved.” Nearly $40 million was recorded as “authorized and/or approved by peers or subordinates” of the overtime recipient. In more than 600 instances, pairs of officers “approved each other’s overtime in a reciprocal manner.”
- A host of schemes are tailor-made to pile up excessive overtime that CPD management “acknowledges, but has not adequately addressed.”
Those schemes apparently are so prevalent, there are names for them.
“Trolling” is the term used to describe either volunteering for calls at or past the end of a shift, even though officers starting their shifts were available.
The same label applies to officers “actively seeking a traffic, disorderly conduct or other violation or making an arrest, resulting in an escalating situation” even though it was within the officer’s discretion to dismiss, Ferguson said.
“Paper jumping” is the term for “requesting to be included on an arrest report, despite having little or no involvement in the arrest,” specifically to earn OT by being called to court.
“Lingering” is the label for reporting to court and piling up overtime by staying longer than necessary.
And “DUI guys” is the term used to describe self-appointed “DUI specialists” who commandeer other officers’ drunk-driving arrests to earn overtime by appearing in court.
Ferguson argued that the Police Department’s loose management of overtime “speaks directly to how inefficient management can lead to wide-scale waste and a culture of abuse.”
“The state of the controls and records largely defeat any ability to actually hold individuals engaged in highly suspicious practices fully to account,” Ferguson said Tuesday.
The inspector general noted that confronting issues and abuses uncovered by the audit could resolve the long-running debate about how many officers the city really needs, identify sorely needed funding for police reform and ease workloads to prevent officer burnout.
But the reforms must go beyond fully implementing an electronic timekeeping system over the next two years.
“That alone is not sufficient. A direct line of supervision is a critically-important component,” he said.
For years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel relied on runaway overtime to mask a manpower shortage. He abruptly reversed field a year ago, ordering a two-year hiring surge that, he has promised, will add 970 officers above and beyond attrition.
Overtime pay was $42.2 million in 2011 and has climbed steadily — to $61.2 million in 2012, $107.1 million in 2013, $115.3 million in 2014 and $146 million last year.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that the Chicago Police Department was on pace to spend nearly $200 million on overtime in 2017 — 40 percent more than last year’s record — despite the hiring surge.
The police budget includes $75 million for overtime for the entire year.
Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Martin Preib argued that “strikingly absent” from Ferguson’s audit is “the key focus” of FOP president Kevin Graham’s administration.
“The costs, including overtime, spent on officers facing false allegations, particularly the outrageous amount of money the city is paying defending them and then settling trumped up lawsuits,” Preib wrote. “This is the real systemic abuse in the city and the one Mr. Ferguson should finally address. If he would, we believe the so-called abuses he cites in this report would likely prove to be minor in comparison.”