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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter10:43 amOct 25, 20180

Once again, Baltimore circles around a solution for spiraling police overtime

The Pugh administration confirms BPD’s shocking lack of OT oversight, but offers few specifics or a timeline for reform.

Above: Police headquarters on East Saratoga Street, two blocks from City Hall. (Mark Reutter)

The bottom line of a press conference held yesterday at City Hall: Baltimore Police are not just clueless as to whether the $47 million they dispensed in overtime last year was justified.

They’re not even sure if officers worked the regular (non-overtime) hours they’re paid for.

That was the conclusion of Finance Director Henry Raymond, tapped by Mayor Catherine Pugh to tell reporters about the preliminary findings of a long-in-coming consultant’s report on police overtime.

“The Baltimore Police Department,” Raymond said, “lacks internal controls that would allow the department to insure that officers are working all of the regular hours for which they are paid as well as to insure any overtime hours are necessary.”

This was, on the one hand, an extraordinary admission: Once roll call is taken at the start of a shift, officers are marked “present” and paid for the rest of the day even if they leave early or, in some instances, never make an appearance.

The process outlined yesterday was aspirational and without a date for implementation.

On the other hand, wasn’t this same information – unworked “G-days” and overtime for detectives gambling at Maryland Live and vacationing at Myrtle Beach – well established by the federal indictments of the Gun Trace Task Force in 2017, and then reaffirmed in lurid court testimony last winter?

Police overtime has been out of control for years. The Brew has documented:

• “House cats” who never go out on patrol, yet can double their pay by handling mundane administration duties on overtime.

• Favored lieutenants paid $100-an-hour to direct traffic at Inner Harbor events.

Extreme individual examples, such as a husband-and-wife team who collected $700,000 in overtime and an officer in the Eastern District who took home $1,057,094 in gross pay between 2012 and 2017.

We also offered a way for City Hall to fix the problem – summon the political courage to put the BPD on a hard-and-fast budget.

Hand Wringing

In the mayor’s own words after the GTTF indictments were unsealed in U.S. District Court in March 2017:

“We allow police overtime to run up when a lot of other areas of the city, like schools, housing and parks and recreation, could benefit from that money.”

Yet, 20 months later, nothing has been done about it.

In February 2018, former Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa publicly announced new checks and balances for overtime pay, only to reverse himself and “stay” the order due to “objections from commanders and officers,” according to a summary in the consultants’ report.

The order was never implemented.

Regardless, the Pugh administration allocated $47 million in police overtime through June 30, 2018. The final slug of overtime, $21 million, was taken by the mayor from the city’s surplus revenues.

Best Paid in Blue

On a more personal note, the husband-and-wife team are doing better than ever.

Dwayne Swinton got a big promotion this year, becoming commander of the Southwestern District, while his wife, Kimberly Swinton, pulled down the ninth highest gross pay in city government.

Officer Raifu Makanjuola, the overtime king at the Eastern District, collected $212,171.92 in the latest Open Baltimore database survey (see below) – or $34,000 more than Mayor Pugh herself.

Fourteen of the 18 highest-paid city employees in Fiscal 2018 were police officers, thanks to abundant overtime on top of their regular salaries. Shown above by the gross pay column. (Open Baltimore database)

FOURTEEN of the 18 highest-paid Baltimore City employees in FY18 were police officers. The difference between “gross” and “annual” pay in this chart reflects their overtime. Top-ranked William Harris Jr., who runs a SWAT team, earned the bulk of his $250,200 gross pay from overtime ($149,970). Eric Green, a 30-year BPD veteran, picked up $142,258 in overtime alone. By contrast, Mayor Pugh earned $178,294 total last year. Like the police commissioner and other department heads, she gets a salary but no overtime. (Open Baltimore FY18 database)

Yesterday’s press conference was conspicuously lacking facts or figures other than the $23 million estimate of police overtime in FY13 and the $47 million in overtime registered recently.

“Do you have an estimate of what percentage of the $47 million is undocumented, unnecessary, questionable – $10 [million]? $20 [million]? $30 [million]?” WBAL reporter Jayne Miller asked.

“At this point, no. That will be part of phase-two, which is analytics,” Raymond replied, referring to a second report promised at an unspecified date.

In other words, not only has the BPD failed to keep track of the hours of its sworn personnel, but the consultant looking over its shoulder has not yet managed to make any key determinations about the extent of overtime abuse.

Searching for Causes

The mayor insists that the problem is not overtime per se, but the shortage of new officers joining the force, which requires existing personnel to work long hours to fill the gap.

Some members of the City Council point to the latest union contract, which changed shifts from five days of eight hours to four days of 10 hours.

Rank-and-file officers interviewed by The Brew say the department is over-reliant on specialized units and top-heavy with “house cats” (staff assigned to downtown headquarters), shortchanging the meat-and-potatoes of public safety – the patrol division.

The preponderance of overtime costs is not coming from the patrol division, but from specialized units.

Yesterday’s written summary of the consultant’s report verified, without citing specifics, several points.

Most significantly, BPD leadership is reluctant to make any changes in overtime pay because it’s considered necessary to keep officers on the force. Or in the words of the summary report: “Multiple BPD commanders have stated a view that it is impossible to simultaneously engage in effective policing and also enforce reasonable overtime controls.”

This ingrained attitude sunk De Sousa’s overtime reform package last February, just as it torpedoed an earlier set of overtime checks proposed by former Commissioner Kevin Davis.

“An enormous cultural shift would be necessary to reduce overtime costs,” the report goes on to say, because many officers are “dependent on the extra income generated by overtime.”

Another key point: overtime costs are not predominantly coming from the patrol division, but from specialized units and squads favored by downtown headquarters.

“Accountability is particularly challenging within investigative units where officers may have unmarked take-home vehicles,” the report points out, a practice that allows the officers to self-report their hours of work.

“Significant” Price Tag

The overtime study was ordered by Pugh in the wake of the GTTF indictments. It is being conducted by Baker Tilly LLP as part of the city’s defense of a lawsuit by Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which claims that Baltimore has historically underpaid police through an improper calculation of the overtime formula.

By tying the overtime study to ongoing litigation, the Pugh administration has made it difficult, if not impossible, to release its final results to the public. Yesterday, City Solicitor Andre Davis repeatedly spoke of the study as privileged attorney work product.

An “enormous cultural shift” would be needed to cut overtime because so many officers depend on the extra income it generates, the consultant says.

At the same time, Raymond mapped out a “phased process” by which City Hall wants the BPD to rid itself of labor-intensive paper documentation of overtime, including time slips full of scratched-out notations, white-outs and tardy approvals by superiors.

The process outlined was aspirational and free of any timeline for implementation. And the solutions offered – GPS tracking of police vehicles, time in/time out electronic devices and “mobile biometric identification” (e.g., fingerprints) – will come with “a significant price tag,” Raymond warned.

Pugh nevertheless insisted that costly new technology was the long-term answer to BPD’s overtime woes, while also conceding that a pilot fingerprinting program – ballyhooed by BPD’s recently-departed spokesman – didn’t exist.

“I don’t know, I am not aware, of this pilot program,” she said.

Waiting for a Commissioner

Yesterday’s media gathering came at a time when Pugh is under enormous pressure to hire a new police commissioner.

Darryl De Sousa, her previous pick, lasted less than four months before he resigned last May after being indicted for not filing tax returns. The acting commissioner, Gary Tuggle, says he doesn’t want the job.

Pugh has vowed to name a new commissioner by the end of October, though she hedged that promise yesterday, saying, “I’m not going to be rushed into this process.”

Given the conditions outlined by Raymond, it will take a brave person to assume the helm of an agency beset by administrative disarray and faced with one of the highest homicide rates in the country.

A person who, furthermore, is barred from overtime and unlikely ever to reach the pay scale of some of his or her subordinates.

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