A Seattle police officer repeatedly worked more than 90 hours a week, racking up overtime that made him the highest-paid city employee at more than $400,000 one year — and none of his supervisors noticed it.
That’s the conclusion of a review by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability of the case of Officer Ron Willis, finding 15 occasions where he worked more than 90 hours a week in 2019 and identifying numerous longstanding gaps in the Seattle Police Department’s ability to monitor overtime.
In a letter to interim Chief Adrian Diaz, OPA director Andrew Myerberg called on SPD to track hours in a centralized database or require the department’s human resources staff to “flag employees who may be working excess hours.”
As a result of the review by the civilian-run OPA, Willis was suspended for one day without pay for working more than the maximum hours allowed by SPD rules. An SPD spokesperson said Willis wasn’t available for comment, and efforts to reach him weren’t successful.
The OPA review was sparked by a Seattle Times investigation of Willis’ extraordinary pay and SPD’s overtime practices published in September. The article reported that Willis made $414,543.06 in 2019, based on 4,149 hours of work — an average of more than 11 hours a day for the entire year — including several occasions where he was compensated for more than 24 hours in a day. The department couldn’t effectively track overtime as it is still kept on paper forms, The Times reported.
The department had said at the time that installing an automated timekeeping system, in the works for four years, was expected to go live “within the next year.” On Thursday, SPD spokesperson Randall Huserik said the software “is still a work in progress with no set timetable for its implementation.”
OPA examined the possibility that Willis was paid for time he didn’t work and referred the matter for a criminal investigation, which it said is ongoing.
But Huserik said there is no criminal investigation into time theft “as all of the time he was paid has been accounted for.” Myerberg, the OPA director, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Police Department has for years struggled to monitor overtime, and has been the subject of multiple critical findings from city auditors and OPA.
A 2016 audit of SPD’s overtime controls described confusion and inconsistencies in how overtime pay is logged, with little independent monitoring. Hours could be entered into an electronic time sheet or on paper, creating the potential for duplicate payments, the auditor found.
The gaps in oversight have persisted. In summarizing its investigation of Willis, OPA laid out blind spots that prevent SPD officials from effectively monitoring how much employees work.
All overtime records are kept on paper, making it hard to quickly find and check hours. Supervisors who approve an officer’s time sheet don’t have access to overtime records. Multiple supervisors could assign overtime to one officer without knowing it.
“A database that works as a one-stop shop for all things overtime,” coupled with some mandatory supervisor checks, “would likely remedy this issue,” OPA wrote.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said SPD’s inability to track overtime “is a many-years-old issue that should have been addressed years ago,” after the 2016 audit.
“The staffing constraints of SPD today are no excuse for these recommendations going unimplemented for 5 years,” Herbold said in an email.
In his interview with OPA, Willis didn’t dispute working more than 90 hours a week, but denied being paid for time he didn’t work. The officer told OPA that he felt his hours were all allowable under the “public safety” exemption that allows SPD officers to work beyond the maximum, but acknowledged he didn’t seek the required waiver.
Willis also told OPA he was accustomed to working long shifts in the military and that “he was able to do so proficiently and without exhaustion impacting his performance,” noting that he only needs four hours of sleep a night.
OPA found no evidence that Willis’ performance suffered, saying he was the subject of few complaints and uses of force. “This is the case even though the great weight of scientific analyses of officer wellness have pointed to overwork and the lack of sleep as leading to worse decision-making,” OPA wrote in its summary.
The OPA review couldn’t conclusively determine whether Willis worked all the hours he was paid for, citing the limitations on how SPD employees clock in and out that have stymied similar investigations in the past. For the four days OPA identified that he was paid for more than 24 hours, Willis said that he used extra overtime allotted to him as a field training officer.
That did not violate policy, OPA wrote, but “the scope of the hours he worked — on multiple occasions 20 hours or more straight or with only short breaks in between, raises the specter of misconduct and OPA cannot conclusively disprove it or, for that matter, exonerate” Willis.
Willis was aware of how much time he was putting in. He contacted SPD’s human resources unit at least six times “to ensure that he was being compensated for all the hours he worked,” OPA found.
Last year, he cut back. City payroll records show he was compensated for working 3,039 hours — over 1,000 hours fewer than the year before. His gross pay of $268,410, roughly equal parts regular and overtime wages, didn’t crack the top 50 most highly paid city employees in 2020.
Seattle Times staff reporter Elise Takahama contributed to this report.