This morning the City Council revisited a recurring pain point: the Seattle Police Department’s inability to stay within budget on its overtime expenses.
The issues with how the Seattle Police Department manages overtime for its officers go back for years, if not decades, but they came under particular scrutiny starting in October 2014 when then-Chief Kathleen O’Toole requested an audit of the department’s overtime practices. It took the City Auditor 18 months to issue the audit report; in the intervening time the City Budget Office and the City Council became acutely aware of the budget pain inflicted when SPD’s overtime expenses went deep into the red.
After the audit report was released in April 2016 and the Council was briefed, the City Council passed a resolution requesting quarterly reports through the end of 2017 from SPD on its progress in addressing the recommendations from the Auditor to get its overtime practices under control. Those reports showed some progress, but not enough to satisfy the Council that the issues had been resolved, so last fall the Council requested an interdepartmental team be convened to:
- Comprehensively describe SPD’s overtime policies and practices in relation to the findings and recommendations in the 2016 Office of City Auditor report on SPD overtime controls;
- Identify the sources and root causes of the historical gap between SPD budgeted and actual overtime spending (overexpenditure gap) that accounts for factors such as service level needs, staffing levels, population growth, any shifts in systemic practices, and historical events, and that seeks to distinguish between legitimate overtime needs and unnecessary overtime;
- Evaluate best practices in overtime across the country that may inform SPD’s systems; and
- Issue recommendations on (a) the most impactful strategies to reduce the overexpenditure gap and (b) strategic approaches to overtime budgeting and budget requests (supplemental and fall budgets) that will give Council a meaningful opportunity to review and approve or disapprove of anticipated overtime expenditures.
This morning, that workgroup delivered its response to the Council.
A bit of good news is that SPD has updated its Departmental Manual to address many of the Auditor’s recommendations. Those updates include (from SPD’s summary report on the changes):
- Employees require pre-approval from a supervisor to work overtime.
- Employee work hour maximums: no employee may work more than 90 hours in one week.
- Supervisor responsibilities for monitoring overtime use.
- Lieutenant/manager responsibilities for monitoring overtime use.
- Employees on sick leave, military leave, disciplinary suspension, or limited duty will not work department overtime.
- Employees will not use discretionary time off to work department overtime.
- A bureau chief approves altering regular shift hours to work department overtime.
- Employees report overtime worked on the appropriate form.
- Sergeants/supervisors enter overtime within the pay period it is earned.
- Sworn employees may request overtime for taking law enforcement action off-duty.
- Overtime is paid as wages or compensatory time off (comp time).
- Officers assigned as acting sergeants receive training on proper supervision of overtime.
- Captains retain copies of signed overtime forms for all section and precinct personnel.
- Captains are responsible to ensure that supervisors approve their direct reports’ timesheets.
- Captains shall log overtime worked on their timesheets for later use as flex time.
The fact that all of these policies needed to be explicitly added to the departmental manual speaks to the extent of the problem inside SPD and how poorly (if at all) overtime was being managed.
According to SPD’s report, the department is unsure of its ability to enforce the new polices. It has required all sworn officers to review the policy, pass a quiz, and affirm that they have read and understood it. But in budget terms it also noted that the department is “unable to quantify the impact of the new overtime policy or actions taken to implement the new overtime policy… the SPD does not currently have the tools needed to track and monitor preauthorization information or maximum hour threshold.”
That isn’t to say that SPD hasn’t tried to understand why it keeps running overbudget on overtime.
According to its analysis, while overall overtime expenditure has risen steadily, the proportion attributed to various uses hasn’t changed much:
They also note that SPD’s staffing has risen over the same period of time. That suggests either:
- overtime usage isn’t related to staffing level;
- the staffing increase wasn’t enough to make a difference;
- policing needs increased faster than staffing increases;
- the staffing increases weren’t deployed to the areas driving overtime usage.
In this morning’s Council briefing, City budget Director Ben Noble and SPD COO Brian Maxey said they believed it was the third one: the required work for police officers continues to grow, but it takes time to hire officers so hiring continues to trail the increase in demand. They also noted that the recent increase in officer training has indirectly added to the use of overtime; while SPD doesn’t pay officers overtime to attend trainings, it often must pay overtime to the officers filling in shifts behind those pulled off assignment for training. Both Noble and Maxey believe the department will eventually hit a “sweet spot” staffing level that will cause a decrease in overtime.
SPD took a special close look at overtime usage for special events, which represented 40% of the total overtime expense in 2017. Last year the number of events SPD supported rose by 17%, while the costs generated by all events rose by 9% — a combination of more events and potentially higher staffing levels at those events.
The department now has people in its Operations Center who are dedicated to planning and overseeing support for special events to increase consistency and appropriateness. Last December, the City Auditor issued a follow-up report focused on how SPD handles special events. In that report, the auditor found that SPD generally follows best practices in staffing levels for special events, but fails to achieve full cost recovery from event organizers for police services. Part of that is the fault of SPD’s own administrative processes for not ensuring prompt and accurate billing, payment and collection; but another part is the City Council’s responsibility. The Council specifies the city’s cost recovery rates for events by ordinance, but it hasn’t updated those rates since 2015 — but even then the rates recovered far less than SPD’s costs. Some of that is intentional — the city doesn’t want to cost-burden community and free-speech events — but its billing rate doesn’t achieve full cost recovery even for events run by for-profit organizations. And that problem will only get worse when the new SPOG contract is approved and police officers’ pay rates increase (for the first time in several years). This morning, This morning, Council members Johnson and Gonzalez both expressed their desire to take a deeper look at the cost-recovery structure in place and make adjustments so that it was fairer to taxpayers, i.e. they no longer are subsidizing all special events because of the low cost-recovery rate. The city will likely continue to subsidize police support at many community events and free-speech events, but there seems to be broad agreement that events organized by for-profit groups should fully cover the city’s costs to support them.
But the biggest problem with SPD’s administrative processes, and in general its ability to manage overtime, is that it still manages sworn officer scheduling, timekeeping, and overtime on paper. Back in April 2016 when the first audit report was released, it highlighted this issue and recommended that the department needed to implement an automated scheduling and timekeeping system. At that time, SPD COO Brian Maxey responded to the auditor’s recommendation by saying that such a system (called Kronos) was in the works and “rollout will begin shortly.”
That turned out to be comically wrong. The Communications Center finally got a pilot system set up in January of this year — not Kronos as originally intended, but a system from a different vendor called Schedule Express. The rest of SPD still does not have a scheduling and timekeeping system today — they are still using paper. A public documents request I submitted reveals how the effort to procure a scheduling and timekeeping system repeatedly went off the rails for two and a half years.
While SPD was trying to spin up this effort in the spring of 2016, Mayor Murray was busy consolidating the city’s dozens of IT units tucked into individual departments into a single IT mega-department under CTO Michael Mattmiller. That consolidation divided the work and decision-making for the SPD Kronos project between Mattmiller and SPD’s Maxey. At that time Mattmiller had a private email discussion with the City Budget Office, complaining about SPD’s history of not knowing what its needs are or how to prioritize them.
To address the concerns, Mattmiller imposed his new “stage gate” approval system for large IT efforts, which he had introduced to Seattle IT to prevent the kind of problems that the NCIS billing system had. Overall that’s a good thing, but in this case it got in the way of moving fast on an urgent need. In the spring of 2016, the Seattle IT/SPD team debated back and forth whether to issue an RFP, or whether to find a faster approach. They decided to leverage the Harford, Maryland School District’s earlier RFP for Kronos, through a mechanism called the “U.S. Communities” program that is designed to allow other local jurisdictions to avoid lengthy RFP processes. The problem with leveraging the U.S. Communities program is that you have to take whatever system they negotiated, with limited modifications — and that’s where SPD ran into trouble. It still had to do a lengthy review to determine whether it had the right components and whether they would meet the city’s security and privacy requirements, and it had to negotiate contract terms and pricing with Kronos. Worse, when Mattmiller hired a new Director of Security, Risk and Compliance in August 2016, she withdrew the department’s earlier security review and rejected the Kronos system as specified in the Harford RFP. What followed were several months of trying to get Kronos to fill out an extensive security questionnaire to determine whether it truly met the city’s requirements. Finally in December of 2016, Maxey and Mattmiller gave up, dropped the Harford RFP approach entirely, and decided to start over and issue an RFP. The supposedly quicker path to getting Kronos deployed turned out to be a nine-month rathole that accomplished nothing.
And then nothing happened for another year, as then-Mayor Ed Murray resigned, Mayor Jenny Durkan took office, and Mattmiller resigned (Durkan has yet to appoint a permanent replacement for him). By August 2017 the potential for the Fire Department to also get funded for a new scheduling and timekeeping system had just led to more confusion. According to a December 2017 email from Maxey, “The project stalled at city IT. They were never able to hire a project manager. It’s now proceeding as a citywide project.”
In the end, The Seattle Fire Department indeed decided that it also needed a new scheduling and timekeeping system. It took the lead in preparing an RFP that would cover both SFD and SPD.
In January of this year, SPD forced Seattle IT’s hand and pushed through a “fast path” pilot implementation of another scheduling and timekeeping system (called Schedule Express) for its Communications Center employees — skipping the RFP process and acquiring it through NPPGov. In February, Maxey was forecasting that the RFP for SPD and SFD was still “on the distant horizon.” By March, SPD’s customer service director, Jimi Robinson, and its CFO, Mark Baird, both fed up with the endless delays, were pushing to just deploy Schedule Express throughout the department. That conversation went nowhere.
In March, an exasperated Maxey sent an email to Mayor Durkan’s attorney, Ian Warner, complaining about the consolidated Seattle IT department, listing all the problems it had caused (including the stalled-out Kronos implementation), and agitating to have SPD’s IT department spun back out and returned to the department. He highlighted the Schedule Express pilot deployment as an anomaly that was outside Seattle IT’s regular processes:
In June of this year, the city finally issued an RFP. Notably, it lists SFD as the primary user of the system, and says that SPD (and other departments) might also use it. Proposals were due by July 20th, and a winning bid was to be announced by July 27. As of this writing, no winner has been announced. A spokesperson for Seattle IT said, “The RFP selection committee has a recommendation for vendor. The City is currently in contract negotiations with the vendor, but until the contract has been finalized, no formal announcement will be made.”
In SPD’s written report to the Council that was delivered this morning, SPD said two interesting things:
- the “go live” date for their work scheduling and timekeeping system is now anticipated to be May 2019. (this morning Maxey said “Q1 of 2019” — UPDATE: Maxey tells me this was a misstatement on his part))
- “The project timeline was extended when other city departments expressed interest in securing a similar solution and subsequently added on to the project.”
The first statement is a wild-ass guess that has no basis in reality since the city doesn’t even have a contract with a vendor yet and has a big, complicated roadmap for what it needs to build out. The second is at best a radical oversimplification of what has transpired over the past two and a half years, and at worst is a lie to cover for the delays, setbacks and endless bureaucracy.
Worse, SPD isn’t coming clean on how incomplete the solution will be. This internal presentation dated July 31, 2018 — just over a month ago — highlights the several components that are still unfunded, including timekeeping, off-duty controls, and connecting it to the city’s payroll system.
To sum up where we are:
- SPD has updated its manual to specify policies that will hopefully improve oversight of overtime usage.
- The department still doesn’t have the tools to understand why it keeps running overbudget on overtime, though it has educated guesses as to what’s going on.
- SPD (and the city as a whole) still isn’t managing to recover the full costs it incurs for special events — even for-profit events.
- The city still sucks at IT projects, and is not being forthcoming about why it sucks at IT projects, despite introducing its new “stage gate” approval system.
When asked about steps that the Mayor is taking to address issues with Seattle IT, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office noted that there are always challenges when there is a significant structural shift in how a department runs, including Seattle IT’s consolidation that moved over 400 people into a new organizational structure. The spokesperson said that Acting Director of Seattle IT Tracye Cantrell has been meeting regularly with Maxey to help resolve SPD’s issues, and that Seattle IT is currently conducting an IT Effectiveness Assessment, analyzing services, capabilities, and cost estimations to identify both strengths and areas for improvement for the department.
This will all be revisited next month, when the City Council begins deliberations on the city’s 2019-2020 budget — including SPD’s overtime allocation.