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Overtime abuse at the BPD

Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen2:50 pmApr 6, 20180

How to fix police overtime in Baltimore

The solution is pretty old-school: Give the BPD a budget and make them stick to it, reporter Mark Reutter says

Above: Artist Loring Cornish’s transformed “police box” at Lanvale and Charles streets. (Fern Shen)

Discussing his three-part series, “Overtime Abuse at the BPD,” on WYPR yesterday, Baltimore Brew’s Mark Reutter reviewed the problem:

Police overtime spending has soared 66% in the past six years and is expected to hit $50 million this year.

“There are dozens of police officers, as well as police sergeants and lieutenants, that earn substantially more than the mayor,” Reutter said, in an interview with Sheilah Kast.

One lieutenant with a $97,309 base pay, for example, brought home a total $244,913 in 2017, thanks to $147,604 in overtime.

Reutter found no correlation between overtime and arrests, with some of the biggest overtime recipients being officers nearing the end of their careers who made only a handful of recent arrests.

“Excessive overtime won’t change until the mayor and city government stop giving carte blanche to the police department.”

While the recent federal Gun Trace Task Force trial exposed various overtime scams, such as officers claiming to be on duty while really vacationing in the Caribbean, Reutter said “the core issue is not fraud, but general department practices.”

The Brew’s analysis found huge amounts of overtime going to sergeants and lieutenants working parades, sports events and festivals rather than fighting crime.

Many of them were “house cats,” police slang for officers who shun the street and curl up comfortably in the downtown bureaucracy, waiting for light tours of duty at time-and-a-half pay.

While the average officer’s salary is less than $75,000 a year, The Brew’s analysis found that 900 BPD employees made $100,000 or more last year courtesy of overtime.

What can be done?

Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa point to new protocols and procedures, such as digital fingerprinting, to verify that officers are where they say they are.

Reutter said such strategies are expensive substitutes for the real fix:

Old-fashioned financial controls that boil down to making a realistic budget, like your family might, and then sticking to it.

“Excessive overtime won’t change until the mayor and city government stop giving carte blanche to the police department,” he said, describing the supplemental appropriations that are quietly approved by the Board of Estimates and City Council at about this time every year.

Old-fashioned financial controls that boil down to making a realistic budget, like your family might, and then sticking to it.

These “supplementals” in effect “underwrite and sanction police department overruns.”

The solution, Reutter said, is to “set up a budget that has a reasonable amount of overtime, followed by a series of budgets that would have lesser amounts of overtime until it is reasonably under control, with the police department responsible for keeping to that budget.”

Eventually, there should be no supplemental appropriations.

Another strategy he proposed:

“Have independent financial people come and help the police department look at ways they can economize,” he told Kast.

“For example, do they really need $100-an-hour lieutenants directing traffic at neighborhood parades?

“Can’t they get contract employees to do a lot of the administrative tasks in the bureaucracy that are now being performed by sworn officers as well as by lieutenants and sergeants, many of whom are getting $40,000-$50,000 of overtime?”

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