Baltimore Police overtime has declined in recent months, and the department is working on plans to conduct an overall review of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

Commissioner Michael Harrison and his staff briefed members of the Baltimore City Council on those topics and others during a monthly department oversight hearing Thursday evening.

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According to figures provided to City Council members, the department has shown some reductions in overtime hours and spending, which Harrison attributed to “smart policies" and budgets, saying that managers are held accountable to track overtime expenses.

Previously, he said, “we didn’t have much oversight."

The department has been struggling with overtime spending because its patrol ranks have become severely depleted even as police battle stubbornly high levels of violent crime. Overtime costs have doubled in five years to nearly $50 million for a department of about 2,500 sworn officers.

Baltimore Police need to pay officers overtime to make sure shifts are covered, but its overtime policies also have been abused. Among the accusations leveled against the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force, the corrupt police unit whose officers have been convicted on federal charges of racketeering, was overtime fraud. Some of the officers were paid for hours they didn’t work.

Department officials told the council that for the past three pay periods in August and September, its spending on overtime fell below its $1.65 million target as it doled $1.6 million, $1.3 million and $1.2 million. In July and August — the only two months’ worth of prior data that was provided to the council — it spent $1.8 million to $2 million per two-week pay period. And those figures are lower than at the same time in previous years, according to the available data.

The overall number of overtime hours declined from 34,530 in July to 21,687 in September, according to the available data. This year’s data followed a historic downward trend in overtime between the summer months and September. The department has set a target limit of 28,448 overtime hours per pay period.

Harrison vowed in June to crack down on overtime, limiting officers to 32 hours of overtime per pay period.

The announcement came after veteran Sgt. Ethan Newberg, who more than doubled his base salary of $107,807 through overtime, was charged after he told fellow officers May 30 to arrest a bystander who criticized officers’ tactics as they detained another man.

The department has not provided details of how many hours Newberg worked. But he has been identified as the city’s highest-paid employee during the last fiscal year. After Newberg was charged, he was suspended without pay.

Other police officers were among the city’s top earners thanks to overtime.

Harrison said the department must implement more technological improvements to enable further declines.

The Baltimore Police union has criticized Harrison’s decision to limit overtime as the city continues to see high levels of violence.

In a tweet last month, the union leaders questioned cutting overtime for homicide detectives as the city is on pace to surpass 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row.

“The entire BPD is short-staffed, so how can cutting OT make any sense? Crime will get worse,” the tweet said.

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But Harrison said the city has seen a slowdown in violence in recent weeks even with overtime limits.

At the hearing, Harrison also spoke of broader plans to complete a comprehensive review of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, including “how and why and who.” He told council members the department is working to identify an “outside entity” to conduct the review.

This comes after Harrison told a state panel reviewing the scandal that no such review by the department was underway because of the potential for the city to face more civil lawsuits and because the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a similar investigation.

But Harrison said plans are moving forward now and will be among the topics discussed at a scheduled nonpublic meeting Friday with U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar and members of the Baltimore Police monitoring team, as part of ongoing consent decree reforms. Bredar also has said such a review is imperative.

The next quarterly public hearing on the consent decree is scheduled for Oct. 24.

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