City Auditor Briefs Seattle Council on Police Paid-Overtime Abuses

The city council is considering action on a new audit that shows police abuse of the overtime system.

Overtime pay at the Seattle Police Department has been rising steadily since 2010.

This morning, the Seattle City Council will receive a briefing from the City Auditor’s Office on excess paid overtime at the Seattle Police Department. SPD’s overtime spending has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to a new Auditor report.

From the report:

[W]e found that significant improvements are needed in SPD’s controls for overtime processes in the areas of policies and procedures, budgeting, operations, management monitoring, and special events.

The audit into SPD overtime spending was conducted at the request of Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who Mayor Ed Murray appointed in 2014. O’Toole has led police organizations in Boston and Ireland and joined First Lady Michelle Obama at her husband’s State of the Union address earlier this year. She is seen by many as a reformer, though assessment is more mixed in Seattle itself.

O’Toole responded to the audit in a letter to the Auditor’s office, which reads in part:

As this memo indicates, we have not been passive—since your initial briefings in 2015 we have been proactively implementing changes throughout the department. As a result, since July 2015 there were steady reductions in monthly overtime resulting in the lowest overtime usage in November and December 2015 in years. Through overtime reduction efforts, other expenditure controls and salary savings, SPD was able to let $2.9M lapse back to the General Fund at the end of 2015.

The letter goes on to call the audit’s recommendations “an excellent roadmap” for future policy. Those recommendations are in six buckets (as everyone in politics is now calling categories, for some reason):

1. Inadequate overtime policies.

2. Unrealistic budgets given current overtime practices.

3. Inadequate oversight of how overtime gets used in individual cases.

4. Inadequate oversight of how overtime gets used in general throughout the Department.

5. Special events, which constitute the lion’s share of the Department’s overtime budget.

6. Off-duty police work by SPD officers (the timing, length, and details of which is basically a huge question mark at SPD at present).

The audit and O’Toole’s ongoing policy changes at SPD are both due in part to a 2014 report from the Office of Professional Accountability. In response to an anonymous complaint, the OPA looked into overtime spending at the Department’s Education and Training Section (with a little help from none other than the City Auditor’s Office—small world).

The results: a significant portion of cops in the section investigated were double-dipping in their pay. “Several…employees earned overtime on the same days they took leave,” OPA Director Pierce Murphy wrote in his report, “and many…trainers earned overtime nearly every day for long periods, including what appeared to be scheduled days off.”

Remember: these are law enforcers—public servants with unique discretion to use force and curtail freedom—who were exploiting inadequate supervision to bilk taxpayers.

“This investigation raised serious concerns regarding the leadership and management of [the SPD section that was audited] in 2013,” concludes Murphy. “A great deal of taxpayer money was spent.” With a few exceptions, he writes, “the money spent produced little of value. Much of the ‘world-class’ training curriculum [that had been expected] was never delivered and did not add to the effectiveness of SPD.”

Tune in to the Seattle Channel to hear the Auditor’s full presentation at the Council’s 9:30am meeting. If the SC is on the fritz, call 206-684-8566 to listen live.

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