“You gotta think about it like this, yo. We get paid two times.”
Detective Jemell Rayam’s observation, picked up on a federal wiretap, sums up the way some officers apparently view overtime at the Baltimore Police Department – as a never-empty cookie jar.
This week’s indictment of Rayam and six other members of the Gun Trace Task Force for overtime fraud (together with robbery, racketeering and extortion) coincides with what is projected to be the largest amount of overtime ever to be paid by Baltimore taxpayers to the police department.
Budget Director Andrew Kleine last week told a City Council hearing that BPD overtime is expected to reach $44 million this year – or $27 million more than the city had expected.
“We budgeted 16 and a half [$16.5 million] and projecting $43, $44 [million]. So that’s where that $27 million deficit comes in,” he explained to committee chairman Eric Costello.
Kleine blamed the near tripling of overtime expenses on the usual suspects – vacancies in uniform positions and a surge in retirements and resignations. (Alarming footnote: police severance pay is expected to balloon $4 million over budget, Kleine said, adding more to the deficit.)
Paid more than the Mayor
“Caroline can talk about some steps the police department is taking to try to reduce this deficit,” Kleine told the Council, referring to BPD chief financial officer Caroline Sturgis.
But before turning to what Sturgis said about BPD’s efforts to rein in overtime costs, consider how the those indicted detectives have treated overtime.
The seven officers almost did get paid twice by Baltimore City (see chart above) thanks to a system of lax reporting and apparently nonexistent oversight.
In fiscal 2016, they collected a little more than $500,000 in annual salary and a little less than $400,000 in overtime.
As a result, detectives whose salaries range in low $60,000s to mid-$70,000s averaged $120,000 last year thanks to overtime. Meanwhile, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, who ran the Gun Trace Task Force, pulled in $168,751.
Which meant that Jenkins collected $5,000 more than the $163,105 paid to Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in fiscal 2016, on-line records show.
“One Hour can be Eight Hours”
Given that these same officers sometimes didn’t show up for their regular shifts – instead they were vacationing in the Dominican Republic or plotting robberies, according to the indictment – the advice that Detective Momodu Gondo gave to Rayam seems relevant.
Working for the BPD is “easy money,” he said in a July 14,2016 wiretap, where “one hour can be eight hours.” So “take care of shit at home,” he advised Rayam, adding, “I’m goin home, goin to sleep. Fuck that shit, yo.”
Gondo’s time sheet tells a different story.
He submitted a report “where he falsely claimed to have worked an assigned shift from 8 to 4, and then falsely claimed 8 hours of ‘daily overtime’ from 4:15 p.m. on July 14, 2016 until 12:15 a.m. on July 15, 2016, for a total of 16 hours worked,” the indictment says.
In the section of the report titled “Overtime Work Performed – Explain,” the following information appeared: “OIS Crime Suppression NED4X4,” referring to the Northeastern District and the Four by Four neighborhood on lower Belair Road.
Detective Gondo then signed the report under the affirmation, “We certify that the overtime hours reported herein are authorized, were in fact worked, and are correct.”
“It’s Slash Day”
Four days earlier, Rayam told Gondo that he didn’t feel like coming to work.
“I need to get some sleep, my nigga. Yo please, yo please, we can do this thing tomorrow morning, yo, but right now I am not trying to see downtown,” referring to downtown police headquarters.
Gondo then told Rayam, “It’s slash day today. That’s what you telling me, man.”
“Slash day” is police slang that absent officers would be credited as working in the time and attendance record books, according to the indictment.
One reason why Rayam and Gondo were so unconcerned about reporting to work was because their boss, Sergeant Jenkins, was vacationing that week.
When Jenkins returned to the BPD, he submitted 40 hours of overtime – saying he was conducting “Proactive Enforcement” and “Crime Suppression” in three troubled districts – when actually he “was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with his family on vacation,” the indictment says.
This was the same Sergeant Jenkins who collected that $168,751 in fiscal 2016.
(One nice detail: Jenkins reported he was engaged in “crime suppression” in the Western and Northern districts precisely “from 8:39 a.m. to 4:39 p.m.” on July 15, when the indictment says he was actually 500 miles south at the beach.)
Cooking the Books
While picking up 40 hours of “easy money,” Jenkins also allegedly helped his subordinates cook the books over their own attendance. As Gondo said to Rayam on an intercepted call, “I work that overtime slip out when Wayne [Jenkins] comes back.”
The abuse of overtime, according to the indictment, involved all seven members of the task force, with veteran detective Danny Hersl (17 years of service) demonstrating some of the more adroit manipulation of his time sheets.
For example, he submitted a “Mandatory 12-Hour Shift” report for July 23-24, 2016, while allegedly spending those hours in Harford County (where he lives) and in Canton (where, other detectives noted, he frequented the bars). Sergeant Jenkins approved the report.
On those same two days, Detective Marcus Taylor submitted overtime reports for two Mandatory 12-Hour Shifts. Taylor was actually in New York City, the indictment says.
In August, Taylor joined two other task force members, Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward, for a five-day getaway to the Dominican Republic.
All three officers “failed to request time off for vacation,” the indictment says, but they “were paid for their assigned shift, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on August 8 and 9, 2016.”
Some Questions to Police
In the wake of Wednesday’s indictment, we asked T.J. Smith, chief of media relations at BPD, the following questions:
• Procedurally, who approves police overtime pay? Are officers free to submit overtime on their own by swearing to the affirmative that their report is true? Are these reports then reviewed?
• Specifically, who approved and/or reviewed the overtime of the seven indicted GTTF officers?
• Have there been any demotions or other actions taken within the ranks by Commissioner Davis as a result of the indictment?
• What steps has Davis taken to guard against overtime fraud?
Smith has promised he will get back to us. When he does, we will report what he says. (SEE UPDATE.)
BPD’s Response to Overtime
Until then, Caroline Sturgis’s remarks to the City Council about reducing the surge in overtime remains the last word from the department.
Here is her testimony in full:
“Seventy percent of the overtime spending is related to staff shortages as well as investigations of homicides. For fiscal 2017, we spent $13 million on staff shortages and that as a result of 300 positions being vacant. At the beginning part of February, we transferred 114 sworn personnel from administrative capacities over to sector patrol. So that will help assist with the overtime spending.
“We have also implemented an overtime spending reduction plan which reduces our overtime spending about $500,000 every pay period. With that goal we are looking at reducing our overtime spending by the end of the fiscal year by an additional $5 million.
“We also have an aggressive pilot plan. The police department is looking to fill 240 positions within this calendar year. We currently have an RFP out to procure the software that will help us automate our hiring process. We find [that] we lose a lot of people during the hiring process because the process just takes too long. We are now averaging six to eight months to hire someone.
“We are also shifting additional personnel to the background investigation section. We currently have 300 applicants caught up in a bottleneck, so by shifting additional background investigators to the process will help us improve the efficiency of the process.
“We are also working with human resources to create a police recruit classification. This is a new classification that allows us to hire police applicants early on [while] the full background process continues. We also are looking at restoring the cadet position within the department [that will] allow us to save some of the vacant sworn positions that we have available.
“Finally, we are thinking of outsourcing our background investigation process. Right now, as I stated, it takes four to six months to happen with sworn personnel. We’re thinking of outsourcing that so it takes less than 30 days.”
And so the process churns at the BPD.