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Darcy Costello

Baltimore Sun

January 23, 2024

In spring 2022, a Baltimore Police officer worked 22.75 hours of overtime in one day — eight hours for the department and nearly 15 hours of casino security and speed camera-related secondary employment.

It was one of three separate instances that fiscal year when the officer worked more than 20 hours of overtime in a single day, according to a state audit of the police department’s overtime released on Monday.

Some officers’ “excessive” overtime was the result of Baltimore Police failing to sufficiently monitor overtime activity and to evaluate the “necessity and propriety” of high levels of overtime being paid to specific officers, according to 74-page report from the Office of Legislative Audits.

It identified 100 officers who worked more than 1,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2021-22, which ran from July 2021 to June 2022; of those, it said, seven earned more than $100,000 in overtime. The department paid out more than $45 million in overtime in total during that period.

The department’s failure was one of a host of issues identified in agency practices from 2021 through mid-2022: Baltimore Police didn’t analyze unusually high levels of overtime by some officers. It didn’t enforce overtime limits, including a cap of 32 voluntary overtime hours per week. And it didn’t conduct required overtime audits.

Baltimore Police said in a written statement on Monday that the report doesn’t reflect the present state of the payroll system or present a “full picture” of the circumstances during the audit period, including the COVID pandemic. It noted, too, that the period coincided with the city’s implementation in late 2020 of a new payroll system, Workday, to replace the old outdated system that allowed for employee abuse.

BPD went on to say it has developed a plan to implement the audit’s recommendations to remedy identified flaws. The agency has already upgraded payroll processes, rewritten policies and begun to establish oversight to monitor and prevent abuse of overtime, according to its written statement. It also is working on an overtime dashboard for supervisors or commanders to review.

“We look forward to continuing our work and fulfilling the recommendations in the audit,” the statement said. The department’s written responses in the audit list estimated completion dates through the end of May.

Baltimore Police has a troubled history of overtime oversight. A 2018 audit found the agency was unable to prevent waste and fraud due to a reliance on antiquated systems and a lack of controls to ensure officers actually worked hours they were paid. Its woes continued in subsequent years, The Baltimore Sun found. Officers often logged more than 12 hours a day, every day, for weeks, data showed.

Officers’ overtime fraud spilled into federal court, too, as Gun Trace Task Force members were convicted following a sweeping federal indictment in 2017 for, among other crimes, “routinely” submitting false overtime reports.

The department attempted, in response, to rein in overtime amounts and strengthen internal oversight. Former Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, for instance, in 2019 sought to crack down on officers who worked more than 32 hours of voluntary overtime per week.

But the recent state audit shows flaws in those oversight mechanisms.

The ten officers paid for the most overtime hours in fiscal year 2021-22, which included the officer who worked a 22.75-hour overtime day, “routinely” violated requirements, the audit found. Each exceeded Harrison’s 32-hour cap at least once.

Together that fiscal year, those ten officers exceeded the limit 90 times and, on 141 occasions, were paid for more than 12 hours of overtime on one day — on their way to earning about $1 million in overtime that year, for 15,504 overtime hours. Many of those ten officers more than doubled their base salary in years leading up to or including fiscal year 2021-22.

The audit further found 268 employees who exceeded the 32-hour overtime limit in the same fiscal year. Those 268 individuals exceeded it 693 times that year.

Working excessive amounts of overtime has financial consequences for taxpayers, and also can harm officers’ performance. Studies show working extra hours increases the likelihood officers will be accused of misconduct and excessive force.

Sgt. Ethan Newberg, the highest paid officer in fiscal year 2018-19, more than doubled his base salary in overtime that year. In November, he was sentenced to six months of home detention after pleading guilty to misconduct in office that included unjustified arrests and detaining bystanders who criticized or tried to record him.

According to the audit, the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommend that supervisors and commanders monitor overtime to identify “unusual, unexplained or disproportionate” expenditures.

BPD, however, told auditors that such procedures weren’t in place due to Workday implementation challenges, new policies and other priorities of the department. It added that managers rely “significantly” on direct supervisors.

Those supervisors also dropped the ball in oversight, according to the audit. Across the department, there was a “lack of effective and meaningful front-line supervisory review,” ranging from failing to ensure overtime was only used as necessary, to failures in categorizing overtime type, as required by policy. The audit found $16.7 million in overtime expenditures not categorized into one of more than a dozen overtime types, which is vital to recordkeeping and compliance with overtime requirements.

Commanders and administrative leaders, meanwhile, didn’t routinely analyze overtime data, conduct required audits or reviews, or take disciplinary action against people “charging and approving excessive or improper overtime.”

In its written audit responses, BPD said it would re-train supervisors, mandate training for those who repeatedly violate policy and commit to a quarterly audit plan looking into excessive earners, the 32-hour rule and improperly categorized overtime entries, among other topics.

The department said it planned to cross reference the 100 highest earners of overtime with the 268 who violated the 32-hour cap and do a “deep dive review” of individuals on both lists to see if policies were violated. It also said it would conduct an “equity analysis” of the top 100 earners, to see if overtime was based on workload need, if it was offered to others and if there are any necessary improvements to policy.

Moving forward, BPD said, a third party will manage the agency’s secondary employment, including maintaining agreements with vendors and tracking employees prohibited from working secondary employment, such as those with suspended police powers. The audit had found the department, in some cases, didn’t have agreements with secondary employers, including for security at Baltimore Orioles and Ravens home games.

The department’s overtime payments in fiscal year 2021-22 totaled $45,945,594, according to the audit. It said approximately 29% of that amount was “directly” attributed to position shortages and vacancies.

Those struggles have continued for the agency. In June, police officials said there were 338 patrol vacancies, out of 522 total vacant budgeted and funded positions.

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