Understanding the SPD Overtime Audit Report

Earlier this week the Office of the City Auditor released a report on the Seattle Police Department’s use of overtime. The report exposes just how much work SPD Chief O’Toole has in front of her in her efforts to get the police department straightened out.

It’s important to note up-front that O’Toole had requested that the City Auditor perform the audit in October of 2014, based on her concerns that overtime use seemed to be poorly managed. Her concerns were well-founded: in 2015, SPD spent over $24 million on overtime, blowing through their budget of $15 million (out of the entire SPD annual budget of $288 million).

overtime expenditure history

The auditors looked at six topics related to overtime:

  1. overtime policies and procedures;
  2. overtime budgeting;
  3. overtime operational controls;
  4. overtime management controls;
  5. overtime for special events; and
  6. off-duty police work.

They found serious issues with all six areas, and made 30 recommendations of changes that SPD should make. SPD doesn’t dispute any of them.

Some of the revelations are eyebrow-raising, and suggest that SPD is an administrative mess. For instance, SPD has no schedule-management system: they write out their schedules manually. Because of that, they have no ability to reconcile hours logged in their payroll system with hours scheduled — both regular and overtime. By their rules, overtime is supposed to be requested and approved by management in advance, but no one verifies that actually happened (and 12% of the time it doesn’t).

Police officers are supposed to work a maximum of 64 hours per week, but there is no way to enforce that under their manual scheduling system This is made worse when off-duty work is factored in, which is supposed to be included in the 64 hour maximum to prevent officer fatigue, but SPD has no visibility over off-duty hours at all. Also, some people get paid twice for the same overtime hours, and some people were paid for working more than 24 hours in a single day.

The audit report breaks out overtime hours by activity, and by far the largest share was support of special events — 38% of the total hours. SPD supports around 600 events per year, from sporting events and concerts to parades and free-speech events.

overtime by activity

For some of those events, SPD gets reimbursed by the event organizer for police costs, based on a formula that unfortunately undercharges; last year the City Council passed an ordinance that adjusts the charges to better approximate a fee-for-service-provided model, though it still undercharges. The auditor found that the City of Seattle charges less than other comparable cities for police at special events. Further, SPD does a poor job of planning before the event, has no independent reconciliation after the event, and has a significant number of delinquent accounts (because it charges event organizers after the event). When the City Council passed its ordinance last year, it specifically requested the City Auditor to perform an audit of SPD’s entire event planning process; that is apparently scheduled to take place later this year.

The report lists the days between January 2013 and June 2015 that generated the most overtime hours, and it’s an interesting list:

top 25 days for overtime

The top event, 5/1/15, was the May Day protest, in which 6,114 hours of overtime were logged at a cost of $432,000.  The next two are Capitol Hill Block Party days in 2013 and 2014. Next comes the Fourth of July 2014, the 2014 Superbowl parade,  the 2014 May Day protest, fourth of July 2013, Superbowl 2015, and a Stevie Wonder concert in December 2014. You can imagine the challenges in trying to plan police presence for this kind of diversity in events.

Overtime is used very differently across the police force. In 2014, 1794 officers collectively logged 409,026 hours of overtime; 4 of those officers each logged over 1200 hours (the highest was 1,398 hours) and were paid over $100,000 each on top of their regular earnings.

overtime hours in 2014

Police officers, as negotiated by their union, are paid 150% of their normal hourly pay for overtime, and 200% for overtime on July 4th. Needless to say, a lot of police officers clock overtime hours on that day:

overtime hours for july 4

SPD could hire a lot of additional police officers with the $24 million being spent on overtime — and it would be cheaper for the same number of hours, since they wouldn’t be paying them overtime rates.  But you couldn’t convert the entire spend, since overtime is used for peak demand times, such as the May Day riots when essentially everyone reports for duty. And, of course, SPD is struggling to hire police officers at all, having not made significant progress against the Mayor’s promise last year to hire an additional 100 officers above attrition (let alone this year’s promise to hire another 100 on top of that). To that end, the overtime report echoes an issue raised in the SPD staffing consultant’s report last month: the opportunities to use civilians to cover work that sworn police officers are done today.

SPD attached a response to the end of the auditor’s report, authored by Brian Maxey, its Chief Operating Officer. Maxey noted that the department doesn’t dispute any of the findings or recommendations, and thanked the City Auditor’s office for their work. He also discussed several actions SPD has already begun to address the problems, which he claims have already resulted in “steady reductions in monthly overtime.” They are creating a new overtime policy: they have a draft in final review, which they hope to put into effect in the second quarter of 2016 (though it hasn’t been reviewed by the City Council yet, and I am sure they will want to). They are also implementing a new automated scheduling and timekeeping system, which they could extend to handle tracking off-duty work as well. The system will give supervisors access to current and future overtime reports to help them rein in overtime usage and manage to their budget; it will also automate the overtime request and approval process. SPD plans to work with the City Budget Office on a more realistic overtime budget (again tied to the improved staffing model work they are doing). The department also plans to improve its budgeting process for special events.

Expect the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New Americans Committee to schedule the City Auditor and SPD to present the audit report and answer questions in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as the next committee meeting in two weeks.