Takeaways from Portland's police overtime audit
Mayor Ted Wheeler privately said Portlanders "need to get over ourselves" and hire more police officers, records show, while Chief Danielle Outlaw wondered whether her bureau needed as many officers, including precinct staffing minimums for each shift, as its management had long believed.
An audit released last week showed lax management of Portland police overtime, but the 26-page report left some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits on the cutting-room floor — such as the top leaders' input, according to documents reviewed by the Portland Tribune.
The snapshot by the city's elected Auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, found that the city's growing police overtime problem is not being managed well. While costs have more than doubled in the last four years — jumping from $7.2 million in 2014 to $15.3 million in 2018 — some of those costs were not necessary, due to faulty data and inattentive management, the audit concluded.
Here are some of the tidbits and takeaways we found in the auditor's files assembled for the nine-month audit:
1) The leaders whose bureau the audit made look bad asked for it
Critics say Portland's form of government, letting elected city commissioners head bureaus, creates an incentive to hide problems. However, the overtime audit was requested by Chief Outlaw and cheered on by Mayor Wheeler, who oversees the bureau. According to an auditor's memo, more than a year ago, Outlaw told auditors an overtime review would be helpful to her. The chief indicated that she wanted to know whether the (bureau's) staffing model was accurate, did they really need the officers they said they needed," according to the auditors' summary of the conversation.
Outlaw, in a statement after release of the audit, said "I wanted to know all of the factors that drive our OT costs and, specifically, whether their audit would disprove our assertion that OT costs are primarily driven by the steady increases in demands for service and the decrease in staffing over the years."
In a subsequent meeting with auditors, Outlaw asked them to look at the bureau's "secondary employment" system that lets officers do overtime paid by outside companies seeking a uniformed cop on site. She noted that some businesses couldn't even find officers to work for them because officers "were burnt-out," according to a summary of the meeting.
Wheeler, in his meeting with auditors, indicated the city "has an overtime problem and that it was good we would do some digging," a summary said. He said that while the bureau — which is currently more than 120 officers down — clearly needs more cops, the question is how many.
2) The "extreme" was not so extreme
The audit report began with a focus on one unnamed officer who worked three consecutive 16-hour days as part of a 97-hour week. The report called that "extreme."
In reality, documents show, that example was not that extreme. There were several weeks in 2018 in which officers topped 90 hours, and audit documents provided badge numbers, allowing officers to be identified.
• Officer Jose Jimenez Jr., who worked the 97-hour week in February, also worked a 96-hour week in the summer.
• Officer Joseph Cook worked two consecutive 90-hour weeks in February — one at 90, one at 95. Cook also topped 60 hours on 27 out of the year's 52 weeks.
• Officer Lino Pavon worked a 90-hour week in December.
It was also common that patrol officers worked 60-hour weeks. The report found that patrol officers worked fewer than 60 hours in a week "nearly 90 percent" of the time, while the remainder worked more.
Put another way, one out of every 10 encounters Portlanders have with a cop on patrol is likely to be with someone in the middle of a grueling 60-hour-plus workweek.
Unlike most public employees, officers carry a gun and are authorized to use force when necessary. Might long hours affect their mood and decision-making?
Jimenez, Cook and Pavon did not respond to emails requesting comment. One lieutenant said, regarding Cook, that "he's worked with Joe for five years and not noticed a decrease in his performance due to his overtime," according to auditor's notes.
Another lieutenant told auditors that officers' long hours are hurting relations in the community, indicating there was a "huge human component (and) a correlation between overtime and the quality of service," according to a meeting summary.
"He said that a lot of officers were working overtime because they were needed, and not by choice. He said that he's noticed that with some officers who choose to work a lot of overtime, that he's had to pull them aside and tell them that the long hours were affecting them."
3) Mismanagement is not the only cause of overtime
Auditors concluded that a faulty data system had at times led officers to be held over for overtime when, in fact, a particular patrol shift already had enough officers.
Not only that, but there was little oversight, giving sergeants broad leeway to call in officers for overtime even when minimum staffing levels for a particular shift had been met.
Some areas were not explored by auditors, such as a wasteful court-testimony system and what bureau management told them were political protests that have escalated in number, size and intensity. As one bureau manager told auditors, the way the bureau uses overtime codes "disguises the total costs of events," such as protests.
Bureau managers blamed continued short staffing and an increase in calls for service for the bulk of the overtime costs.
In a Sept. 6 meeting with auditors, Assistant Police Chief Chris Davis indicating the audit's suggested reforms were good, but "would only save a couple of hundred thousand dollars at best," noting that "they still have inadequate staffing and an ever-increasing demand for services."
4) Police contract negotiations could get interesting
The Portland City Council has been soliciting input on improvements to the soon-to-be renegotiated Portland police contract. One potential addition to the contract flagged by auditors is to limit how much overtime an officer can take in a week, as about half the country's police departments do, according to auditors' notes.
Wheeler has long complained about the police contract he inherited from ex-Mayor Charlie Hales and the previous council. To auditors, Wheeler noted the inherent waste when an officer could take a day off to work overtime for a private firm, requiring another officer to be called in to work overtime.
"The officers are just doing what the contract allows them to do, which is elected stupidity on the City's part that we agreed to let them do that," Wheeler indicated, according to the summary. "Mayor Wheeler expressed a concern about officer wellness and fatigue from all the overtime and there being no limit on overtime."
A longer version of this article appears online at: portlandtribune.com
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.