Seven takeaways from an audit of Baltimore police overtime that found paper records and a challenging culture

Baltimore officials on Wednesday released the first set of findings from a long-awaited audit of the police department’s rampant overtime spending.

It found the agency’s reliance on antiquated systems — including the use of paper attendance records — left them unable to effectively prevent waste and fraud.

City Finance Director Henry Raymond said the review revealed the department “lacks internal controls that would allow the department to ensure officers are working all of the regular hours for which they are paid, as well as to ensure any overtime hours are necessary.”

The 11-page report details how the Baltimore Police Department lacks the controls to ensure officers are working the hours they’re paid for — and that all overtime hours are necessary and actually carried out.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the audit.

Overtime spending has doubled since 2013.

By the end of fiscal year 2013, Baltimore had spent $23.2 million on police overtime. That jumped to $47.1 million by the end of fiscal year 2017.

The biggest year-over-year increase came between fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Crime has soared in the city since the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody.

There were 342 homicides in Baltimore last year, 56 per 100,000 people who live in the city. That was the highest per capita in the city’s history.

Members of the department saw conflict in solving dual problems of overtime and crime.

The audit describes a black-and-white mindset within the department.

“At times, BPD has described the situation as a binary choice between having overtime controls or effectively addressing crime, and that both could not occur simultaneously,” it reads.

It’s not just officers on patrol who are driving up overtime costs.

Baltimore officials are quick to blame patrol staffing shortages for the department’s exorbitant overtime spending.

But the audit found that the department’s overtime costs are “not overwhelmingly attributable to patrol.” Of the 25 highest overtime earners last year, roughly 40 percent were assigned to duties other than patrol.

The department floundered in trying to curb overtime even during the audit.

Overtime auditing began March 1. About two weeks later, then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa published a new policy designed to strengthen the procedures for obtaining overtime authorization and define new responsibilities for officers and supervisors.

“However, several days after the new policy was circulated within BPD, Commissioner De Sousa announced via email to all BPD members that policy enforcement would be stayed due to objections from commanders and officers,” according to the report.

De Sousa’s email stated that no one would be disciplined for violating the new policy until he had determined there had been enough time to adjust.

Two months later, De Sousa resigned after being charged with federal tax crimes.

The policy was not implemented.

By May, as many as 40 percent of officers patrolling the streets were working overtime.

The police department’s timekeeping system relies on manual input.

The timekeeping system is pre-programmed to record an officer as present — unless a timekeeper manually goes in to change the officer’s schedule.

Paper “roll books” are used by some patrol units and all nonpatrol units, the report states. White-out and eraser marks in the roll books suggest attendance is not always recorded at the appropriate time.

“The possibility for error or fraud is significant in such a paper-intensive process,” the audit states.

Attendance and leave are poorly tracked.

Attendance is taken at the start of a shift, and officers are marked present for the entire day — even if they leave before the end of a shift.

The timekeepers interviewed for the audit said they could not recall a time when officers were required to use leave when they worked fewer hours than scheduled. The department also has no mechanism for tracking instances where officers work less than a whole day, according to the report.

“Units do not record the actual start and stop times of officers; interviewees stated that failure to work a full day (by arriving late or leaving early) would be addressed as a disciplinary matter if there was a chronic problem, but it would not affect an officer’s pay or leave,” it reads.

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Multiple commanders told the reviewers that they would award a paid day off without requiring an officer to use an accrued leave day. They justified it as a “necessary motivational tool.”

Police say reducing overtime costs is one of their top priorities, and they’ve begun implementing recommendations from the auditors.

The city recommended a slew of changes in both and short and long-term.

The review found the department desperately needs improved technology to track its officers’ time and attendance.

The city wants the police department to use of biometric scanning to record the times officers start and end shifts and GPS tracking of all unmarked police cars, among other changes.

The Baltimore Sun reported in February that the department had begun implementing the new biometric technology, but officials said Wednesday that had not yet been carried out.

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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