Chicago Police Department audit reveals millions lost in overtime abuse and waste

Chicago Police Department audit reveals millions lost in overtime abuse and waste

The city’s police department has gone over budget for overtime every year for the past six years, costing Chicago taxpayers $575 million in spending for overtime pay.

An audit of the Chicago Police Department, or CPD, released Oct. 3 revealed poor overtime management that’s come with a heavy cost.

Conducted by the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General, or OIG, the report showed CPD’s overtime costs skyrocketed by more than $100 million over a six-year period to $146 million in 2016, up from $42 million in 2011. CPD outspent its overtime budget every year in the past six years, spending a total of $575 million – which is $218 million over the $357 million budgeted for overtime pay during that time period.

The OIG reviewed practices from 2014 through the first half of 2016, and the report shows CPD’s overtime process is wasteful and prone to error. And it’s not simply financial cost. Mismanagement threatens officers’ and the public’s safety, too.

The report put it in no uncertain terms: “CPD’s manual timekeeping process is costly, inefficient, and lacks operational controls that would curb unnecessary overtime expenditures and ensure accurate recordkeeping.”

The department currently employs 61 timekeepers as well as a support staff and an unknown number of officers who assist in timekeeping and data entry duties. CPD timekeepers cost city taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million annually.

Unfortunately, CPD has not fully automated its overtime processes, and this has lent itself to inefficiency and abuse.

The OIG report found more than 6,700 overtime entries that had been duplicated or overlapped, resulting in a potential extra cost to taxpayers of $1.1 million in mistaken payments.

Furthermore, the report documented several abuses through which CPD officers get overtime. “Trolling” is the practice of “actively pursuing situations that result in … overtime, such as … making an arrest at the end of a shift as a result of escalating a situation which would have been in the officer’s discretion to dismiss.” “Lingering” is staying longer in court than necessary to increase overtime pay, and “paper jumping” occurs when an officer asks to be included in an arrest report “despite having little or no involvement in the arrest, specifically for the purpose of earning overtime by being called to court.” And some officers even resort to designating themselves as DUI experts to earn overtime by going to court in place of other officers who initiated the given DUI arrest.

In addition to being inefficient and expensive, the way in which CPD stores its documents and information is irresponsible, using only hard copies to record $266.8 million worth of compensatory time. The OIG noted those records could not be re-created if the hard copies were damaged or destroyed.

The current overtime system also lacks transparency. The OIG estimates 99.4 percent of overtime reason entries are either left blank or given a generic reason code, which makes it hard to find out the details behind each instance of overtime to determine whether it was truly warranted. These kinds of overtime entries accounted for $225.5 million from 2014 through the first half of 2016.

And although CPD plans to fully implement an electronic overtime system by sometime in 2019, that may not be enough. Inspector General Joseph Ferguson stated that CPD also needs to change its culture around overtime.

“OIG remains concerned that CPD’s response to the audit does not fully embrace responsibility for actively managing overtime and related issues, such as fatigue,” Ferguson wrote in the OIG report. “CPD refuses responsibility for preventing officer fatigue by limiting overtime hours or secondary employment, stating instead that it is each officer’s responsibility to report to work fit for duty and to follow CPD’s directives.”

Ferguson is right that CPD’s overtime problems don’t just have financial implications. Police officers can only work so many hours before becoming severely fatigued. Police work requires alert, fully rested employees who can respond to any situation with professionalism and clear minds.

The report claims CPD management knows how bad the problem of overtime abuse is, but has failed to crack down on the practice. According to the OIG, CPD hasn’t updated its overtime compensation directives since 1994.

CPD’s leadership has an obligation to taxpayers to eliminate unnecessary overtime costs. In a city facing a budget hole worth some $260 million, every dollar must be spent appropriately.

The last thing Chicagoans need is overworked police officers who are unable to exercise sound judgment in the tense situations that can arise in the course of duty.

Chicagoans deserve more accountability and efficiency from CPD management.

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