Audit blasts overtime practices under Blackwell

Audit blasts overtime practices under Blackwell
Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 12:57:43-04

CINCINNATI -- An internal audit of lucrative overtime pay under former police chief Jeffrey Blackwell found significant gaps in oversight, including a lack of proper approval for overtime hours and instances of officers taking paid time off and then working overtime assignments in the same timeframe.

The department's budget for overtime alone was $6.4 million last year, far larger than the budgets of many other city departments combined.

Officers earn one-and-a-half times their normal rate for overtime work; and, as the city's Internal Audit Division found, nearly three dozen officers who used overtime the most collected an extra $15,000 to $70,000 in pay above their base salaries.

The results come from a sampling of 424 overtime forms submitted between July 2014 and September 2015, the month Blackwell was fired by City Manager Harry Black in a public spectacle at City Hall. Blackwell allowed "unlimited overtime opportunities with little or no review," according to a memo from Assistant Chief Dave Bailey; Black cited similar problems in a Sept. 9 memo announcing Blackwell's termination. Those practices have since been eliminated, Bailey wrote.

Blackwell also suspended periodic reviews of overtime pay by the department's Inspections Unit; those are expected to resume under new Chief Eliot Isaac, according to Bailey.

Auditors reviewed forms from 35 officers who were among the highest beneficiaries of overtime pay. They only looked at three categories of overtime pay: assignments that were non-routine or specifically funded, such as police visibility overtime mandated by Cincinnati City Council; overtime that was part of routine police operations; and overtime funded by a grant or other outside source.

The audit didn't look at court overtime or private, off-duty details.

Among the findings:

  • More than half of required forms for overtime pay weren't properly approved or verified.
  • CPD's Central Business Section, which includes the Special Events Unit, had the highest total number of forms out of compliance (47), while the Special Investigations Section had the highest total percent (just two forms were evaluated in the sample, and neither was in compliance). Only two of 44 overtime forms from the Community Liaison Unit were properly approved and verified (meaning 95 percent weren't in compliance).
  • On the other hand, the department's Planning and Safe Streets section didn't have any forms out of compliance (they had one each in the sample group); the Traffic Unit also had very few forms out of compliance (one of 33 submitted, or just 3 percent).
  • Of the neighborhood police districts, District Four had the fewest out of compliance (seven, or 21 percent), while District Three had the most (25, or 83 percent).

Auditors made more than a dozen recommendations, the gist of which is that CPD should hire an outside consultant to help overhaul its entire overtime approval process and make sure its 24 staff timekeepers are properly trained.

CPD agreed with nearly all the recommendations, including a policy to clarify "whether CPD officers are permitted to take off their regularly scheduled duty hours to work Paid Vacation Overtime."

In his memo to Isaac, Bailey, like the auditors, noted a need for technology improvements; the department currently uses two home-grown databases for payroll and overtime, "both of which have limitations and prevent efficiency," the auditors wrote.

The audit is expected to be discussed in City Council's Rules and Audit Committee next week.

WCPO has reached out to the department for comment.