Seattle police wasted more than $1 million on loosely controlled overtime pay last year, allowing officers to collect extra salary on the same day they took vacation and in one case collect 31.5 hours of overtime in a 24-hour period, the department’s internal watchdog reported Tuesday.
Overall, the spending produced “little of value,” Pierce Murphy, the director of the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), concluded in a scathing six-page report that went beyond typical disciplinary findings and prompted calls for better oversight.
A significant portion of the overtime was linked to the department’s efforts to comply with a 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to curb excessive force and biased policing, though no training plan related to the agreement had yet been submitted to a federal monitor overseeing the reforms, Murphy wrote in the special report.
The lax oversight, uncovered in response to an anonymous complaint to the OPA in January, occurred in the Education and Training Section, which was under intense pressure last year to incorporate the department’s now-defunct “20/20” reform plan, the report said.
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The plan, so named because it called for 20 changes in 20 months, was promoted by then-Mayor Mike McGinn and former Police Chief John Diaz to address issues raised by the Justice Department.
As a result, the department exceeded its overtime budget for the training section by more than $1 million because of inadequate “systems and procedures to ensure that overtime hours reported were actually worked and properly approved,” the report said.
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who took over the department June 23, pledged Tuesday to take immediate steps to correct problems.
The department is already producing training materials this year specifically linked to the settlement agreement and is making changes to address issues identified in the report, Murphy wrote.
The report does not recommend any disciplinary action. It found that, in an attempt to get out from under the settlement agreement quickly, training officers worked and earned overtime on the same day they took vacation leave and took advantage of a “9-80” shift in which they worked nine hours on eight days and eight hours on one day.
Officers appeared to be earning overtime on a regular basis by working on their scheduled day off every other Monday or Friday, the report said.
A coding error appears to have led to the payment of 31.5 hours of overtime to one officer for one day of work, Murphy wrote. While it wasn’t an attempt to collect pay for hours not worked, a supervisor approved the time sheet, the report said.
In other cases, the department moved training from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., with trainers still starting at 6 a.m., the report found. As a result, overtime was virtually guaranteed every day.
A majority of the overtime directly related to drafting a “world-class” curriculum for the 20/20 project and expanding the department’s “Street Skills” training from two to four days without adequate staffing or budget, the report said.
But the expansion, Murphy wrote, wasn’t directly tied to any requirement of the settlement agreement or driven by the federal monitor.
In reaching his findings, Murphy said no evidence emerged that any individual or group of employees deliberately misused their position to claim overtime or altered schedules to unnecessarily obtain it. Consequently, he declined to sustain misconduct allegations leveled at five employees.
Rather, the “SPD as an organization” failed to control overtime spending, Murphy concluded.
Except for basic training, specialty courses and an incomplete attempt to expand Street Skills, the money spent produced “little of value,” the report said. Street Skills provides training in defensive tactics and handcuffing, de-escalation techniques, protocols for low-level offenses and dealing with people in crisis.
“Much of the ‘world-class’ training curriculum researched and developed for the 20/20 project was never delivered and did not add to the effectiveness of SPD or move the organization closer to compliance with the Settlement Agreement,” Murphy wrote.
During 2013, up to 38 officers were assigned to the training unit, led by a captain with a lieutenant and four sergeants and overseen by an assistant chief, the report said.
Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess, in a statement, called the report “another example of the gross mismanagement of the Police Department we saw during the McGinn administration.”
McGinn, who made the 20/20 plan a centerpiece of the administration’s police-reform effort, lost a re-election bid last year to Ed Murray, who became mayor in January and has overseen new training tied to the settlement agreement.
In an email Tuesday, McGinn said, “We picked up the pace and intensity of training while keeping as many officers as we could on patrol. That cost money.”
In 2013, the Police Department was headed by Diaz and then for most of the year by former Interim Chief Jim Pugel, who retired in March and was recently named the No. 2 ranking official in the King County Sheriff’s Office.
In a December report, the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, wrote that the department had failed to conduct Street Skills training for about one-third of its patrol officers in 2013.
At the time, Pugel said the training was temporarily shut down late in the year over budget and overtime issues.
Pugel declined to comment Tuesday on Murphy’s findings.
Burgess, in his statement, said, “It was clear to the Council last year that there was little internal management of the Police Department designed to increase policing effectiveness or to use resources in the most efficient way possible. That’s why we set aside $500,000 for the new Chief of Police to conduct an independent management review and resource deployment assessment of the entire Department. We eagerly await her findings.”
Reiterating prior remarks, Burgess — who also ran against McGinn — said he cannot support large increases to the Police Department’s budget until it proves it can effectively manage its current resources and personnel.
The department’s 2014 budget is $288.6 million. Murray’s proposal for 2015 is $293.6 million — an increase of just under $5 million — and for 2016 it is just under $301 million.
Councilmember Nick Licata, in a statement, said, “I understand that the OPA Director Pierce Murphy did not sustain any of the complaints for violating policies related to misuse of overtime because there were not adequate policies in the first place to be violated. The fact that a single unit of SPD exceeded their overtime budget by close to a million dollars is clear evidence that there should have been policies.”
Policies must be put in place immediately to ensure overtime is not used on vacation days and schedules are not altered by supervisors for the sole purpose of allowing for increased use of overtime, the statement said.
In his report, Murphy recommended that O’Toole take immediate steps to ensure adequate oversight of budget compliance and overtime controls.
O’Toole should ask the city auditor — which initially reviewed the whistle-blower’s allegations and identified potential trouble with budget oversight — to conduct a full audit of the training unit and recommend improvements, Murphy wrote.
Without delay, Murphy wrote, O’Toole should implement any recommendations from the auditor that would likely improve accountability.
O’Toole said Tuesday she was requesting a report and recommendations from the auditor.
“While there were no sustained charges against any individuals in the SPD, serious systemic problems were highlighted,” O’Toole said in a statement that noted supervisors failed to keep overtime spending within budget, did not have tight supervisory controls and did not keep accurate records.
“In response to the report and the Mayor’s directive, the SPD will continue to review the training section’s management structure, fiscal accountability measures and program outcomes,” her statement said.
O’Toole said one of her first priorities was to promote better business practices in the department, including a system to track overtime spending and alert command staff as concerns arise.
“Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers and Budget Manager Greg Doss will provide updates to me and my command staff each month on the budget, including overtime spending,” she said in the statement. “We’re also providing financial training to commanders to ensure they enhance their budget skills.”
Murray, in a statement, said Murphy’s report acknowledges the progress O’Toole and her command staff have already made to reform training practices.
“ While we have charted a new course to more effective training at SPD, we have more work to do,” Murray wrote, adding that in light of this report he has directed O’Toole to further review the management structure, fiscal accountability and program outcomes of the Education and Training Section.