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Inspector General finds Baltimore Police officers work on vacation to collect double pay, at steep cost to taxpayers

Baltimore Police officers have a practice of picking up overtime shifts while on paid vacation to make double the money, according to a report Wednesday from the city’s inspector general.

Investigators found the strategy brings an officer double pay: routine money from a paid vacation day plus overtime money for working a shift while off. The police union contract allows for the practice, too, investigators wrote.

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“Although this practice is permitted and does not violate any City policy, it could be perceived as wasteful,” they noted.

City leaders have struggled to rein in police overtime spending. The costs exceeded $50 million in fiscal year 2019 and $43 million last fiscal year. That’s more than $12 million over budget for overtime in the last two fiscal years combined, investigators wrote.

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A Baltimore Sun analysis last year of city payroll data found one officer averaged more than 45 hours a week in overtime for an entire year on top of his regular time. Four more were paid for more than 2,000 hours of overtime, and at least 25 recorded 1,700 hours or more. Officers often averaged more than 12 hours a day, every day, for weeks on end.

In response to the inspector general’s report, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison wrote that the department historically has had little to no accountability over how much overtime officers work. He said he instituted oversight procedures that helped bring down the expenses from $50 million in fiscal year 2019 to $43 million last fiscal year.

Harrison said overtime spending is on pace to decline further in fiscal year 2021 to $32 million.

He said the department will work with the union to take up the policy allowing for double pay on vacation.

“This provision is one of many that the department is seeking to revise through collective bargaining to better align pay incentives and reduce overtime expenditures in the department,” he wrote.

The report stems from a complaint to the Office of the Inspector General that employees were collecting overtime pay they were not entitled to receive. The investigators wrote that they referred these allegations to the Public Integrity Bureau of the police department.

Councilman Mark Conway said he would convene a meeting next month of the Public Safety and Government Operations Committee to take up the issue of double pay.

“Today’s report by the inspector general made for disappointing reading, from a fiscal and basic fairness standpoint. When employees put in for paid days off, they should not be able to then claim overtime pay for those same days,” he wrote in an email. “The department has made great strides in reducing overtime spending, but clearly there is still work to be done so city government does right by the Baltimore taxpayer.”

A date for the meeting has not yet been set.

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