City officials say they can’t release a long-awaited audit of officers’ overtime pay due to a lawsuit filed by the police union that is still pending in federal court
STEPHEN JANIS: This is Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. Overtime fraud was rampant in the Gun Trace Task Force, but now the city’s saying they won’t release an overtime audit that the public has paid for and here’s why.
For a police department under fire for widespread corruption of the now notorious Gun Trace Task Force including rampant overtime fraud, the scene inside Baltimore City Hall this week was, in fact, surreal.
ANDRE DAVIS: The people working on the audit are working under the direction and supervision of attorneys. So, I can’t say anything more.
STEPHEN JANIS: The city’s top lawyer, Andre Davis, explaining that a promised audit of overtime spending by the Baltimore City Police Department would, in fact, remain secret.
ANDRE DAVIS: So, the audit of overtime is a part of the police department’s defense to that lawsuit.
STEPHEN JANIS: The reason? The audit is part of a lawsuit filed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the powerful police union claiming officers are actually underpaid. But why exactly an examination of the department’s books was specifically subject to attorney client privilege? Davis could not explain.
…wouldn’t an audit be part of the evidence in the case? I mean, why would that be completely excluded? If it is subject to litigation, it would be submitted into the court record, right?
ANDRE DAVIS: Precisely.
STEPHEN JANIS: So, where-
ANDRE DAVIS: Once we get to court, it’s all gonna-
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, how long is that gonna take? I mean-
ANDRE DAVIS: You know the answer to that better than I do.
STEPHEN JANIS: But it just seems to be striking me very odd to say it’s attorney work product. That’s very, very strange.
ANDRE DAVIS: It’s not odd at all, it’s attorney work-
STEPHEN JANIS: That’s a very specific classification of information.
ANDRE DAVIS: There’s attorney work product in every piece of litigation of any consequence.
STEPHEN JANIS: So, this could be-
ANDRE DAVIS: Believe me, on the other side they have attorney work product privileged material as well.
STEPHEN JANIS: You’re saying it could be years before the public sees this?
ANDRE DAVIS: I can’t predict how long litigation’s gonna take.
STEPHEN JANIS: The FOP filed the lawsuit in 2016 claiming the city had actually underpaid officers when the department transitioned to a four days on, three days off work schedule. But since the trial of the now notorious task force revealed that commanders routinely approved overtime for officers who didn’t work, many say a thorough accounting is needed.
SPEAKER: … I’m a member of the Public Safety Committee on the Council. It’s something that we’ve asked for, more information for, especially as we move into budget season. I mean, the money that we’re spending in overtime could be going to pay for human trafficking survivors or when we talk about the needs for rec centers and community centers and out of school time.
STEPHEN JANIS: According to testimony from the trial, for example, task force member [Daniel Hersl] took month off and still received overtime. And if officers confiscated a gun, the reward was again overtime for not working. It’s a problem with theft and fraud from an agency that already takes up nearly half the city’s discretionary spending that shows no signs of abating. Last year, when the city’s murder rate reached historic highs, the department spent nearly $50 million on overtime, roughly $30 million over budget, a number that many say is unacceptable and a city that hikes water rates year after year, continues to dole out tax breaks to developers while affordable housing suffers, and just last month had to close classrooms due to lack of adequate heat.
SPEAKER: You don’t know how it feels to see my granddaughter at four years old, go into to a cold school.
STEPHEN JANIS: “It’s a problem that has deep roots,” says municipal financial analyst, George Leibman. He knows that overtime is just one way police drain the city of resources.
GEORGE LEIBMAN: The pension system, both of the police and fire department is a tremendous burden on the city, both because people can retire at a rather early age, which is not the case with normal municipal employees, and because in the upper reaches of the department there’s been so much turn over.
STEPHEN JANIS: In fact, a city with all the aforementioned social needs, has to decide nearly three million dollars in pension for police and firefighters.
It was just last year that The Real News captured this stunning video of rows of gleaming take home cars for city cops, sitting in a lot, gathering dust, which is why Brandon Scott, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, says structural change is critical.
BRANDON SCOTT: We will see it. It’s just a matter of when. It’s not, ghey will give it to us. The moment that the litigation is over. We will be demanding the documents here at the city council level that say, “Give it to us. We are accountable of the citizens. We deserve the right to look at this documentation.”
STEPHEN JANIS: The solution for Scott is simple, true civilian control of police, including an elected police board, a change to hold law enforcement accountable. Not just on the streets, but how they spend our money. The question is, is anyone listening?
BRANDON SCOTT: I think that what this shows is that we need again, for structural change to the oversight structural BPD. We can’t have a structure that has the state in control of the police department. We also should be looking at direct civilian oversight, like a board of people that have power in addition to having local legislative authority from our council.
STEPHEN JANIS: This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.