The Baltimore Police Department allows sworn employees to take paid vacation or personal leave on days when they are simultaneously earning overtime – even if the hours overlap.
The well-known and condoned arrangement, confirmed in a report released today by the Baltimore’s Office of the Inspector General, is spelled out in the agency’s collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 3.
Still, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming notes in the report, the BPD’s policy is troubling considering the long-standing problem of spiraling police overtime.
“Although this practice is permitted and does not violate any City policy, it could be perceived as wasteful,” Cumming wrote in the Investigative Synopsis.
She points out that “BPD exceeded its overtime budget in the last two fiscal years by $12,013.506.”
Just how much the redundant payments to officers cost taxpayers, however, is not clear in the report.
Cumming said her office “was unable to determine the exact excess due to the BPD’s particular practice of double payment for simultaneous paid leave and overtime hours.”
Responding to a complaint, the OIG interviewed employees as well as officials at the BPD and Department of Finance.
“BPD upper management confirmed that a sworn BPD employee can submit for paid time off and receive overtime pay for hours worked on the same date,” the report said.
“The language in the current MOU [with the FOP] states all days and hours of paid leave time shall be treated as days and hours worked,” it continues. “Thus, once a BPD employee receives authorization for paid leave on a particular date, any additional time submitted for the same date automatically becomes overtime.”
Labor Commissioner Deborah Moore-Carter “acknowledged this form of overtime allowance has been a BPD practice for many years,” according to the report.
Moore-Carter told the OIG “BPD is currently in negotiations with the FOP for successor MOUs, including reforming this practice and other problematic overtime practices.
Responding to the report, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he has worked to reduce overtime at an agency where there has “historically been little to no accountability for the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
As a result of policies he put in place, Harrison said, the total overtime spending for sworn members went from $50.6 million in FY 2019 to $43.8 million in FY 2020, a 13% reduction.
He said spending for the current year (FY 2021) is projected to be less than $32 million, a 37% decrease from FY 2019.
In bargaining talks with the police union, the department is seeking to change the definition of “hours worked” in order to reduce overtime.
Harrison also said he has referred the IG report to his public integrity bureau “to conduct an investigation into potential policy violations by members of the department that are identified.”
Citizen activist Melissa Schober pointed out on Twitter today that the issue identified by the OIG is not new. It was discussed in some detail in the BPD’s Excerpt from the Baltimore Police Department's 2018 Overtime Audit." target="_blank">2018 Overtime Audit.
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Schober recounts her efforts to get city officials to respond to problems identified in the overtime audit and a performance audit and end waste in the agency’s $550 million budget.
“Both find – and the audit notes a repeated finding – that there are poor internal controls at the BPD. That the performance measures and outcomes are poorly documented,” she wrote.
“These things matter. They matter to the fiscal and moral health of our city. They matter to me, as a taxpayer and voter. They matter to me as a parent given current and coming-under-Kirwan school funding.”
“Even if @MayorBMScott hands are tired by the contract, I am deeply skeptical that he could not impose some serious oversight via friends on the Council or the bully pulpit,” she wrote. “Hearings, public meetings, forums are all tools.”