'Unfinished' CPD overtime audit spirals into controversy, dimissal of top cop

Things are getting real at the Cincinnati Police Department due to a leaked and unflattering audit, a gender discrimination suit and corruption charges by a top city official

Cincinnati Police headquarters - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Police headquarters

Things have gotten real — or maybe more appropriately, surreal — around the Cincinnati Police Department in the past few days due to a leaked audit, a gender discrimination suit and charges by a top city official that a small group of Cincinnati police are corrupt. That's led to the dismissal of one of the city's top cops.

It’s all very tangled, but here are the basics, including a few key questions: Why did city and CPD administration offer a buyout to one of the key figures in the controversy? Is there a small "rogue" element in CPD looking to remove its chief, possibly motivated by race, as Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black suggested, or is the police union's president right in dismissing that charge? Did the department go $1.8 million over budget on overtime, as the city’s daily paper says, or is that “inaccurate,” as CPD’s chief claimed in a Feb.7 memo?

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac wrote that memo to Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black regarding a leaked draft of an audit of the department’s overtime policies. That audit is connected to another controversy within the department — a gender discrimination claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by District 5 Commander Capt. Bridget Bardua alleging harassment from other officers, including inspections unit commander Jeff Butler, who led the audit. According to Bardua’s gender discrimination complaint, Butler and assistant chiefs Paul Neudigate and David Bailey were working to get Isaac and Bardua removed. The involved officers have denied this assertion.

The Cincinnati Enquirer published a story Feb. 6 pulling from the allegedly unfinished audit, raising ire from Isaac and Cincinnati City Manager Black. That audit was the result of an earlier department-wide review in 2016 that recommended periodic district-level reports on overtime spending to correct issues with the department's overtime system. Bardua made roughly $80,000 on overtime and other non-salary compensation last year, according to the audit, roughly $20,000 more than other district commanders. Two sergeants in Bardua’s district together made about $90,000 in overtime last year, the audit claims. Those overtime figures represent a larger problem related to police overtime policies, according to the review.

But the audit hasn’t been fact-checked by the city and CPD's finance manager was never asked to confirm amounts included in the review, Isaac wrote in his letter to Black, who agrees with those assertions.

"Though the subject of a newspaper article, this audit has not been formally released by CPD or city administration," Black wrote in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council yesterday. "This is because the audit remains incomplete and requires a number of caveats in order to be properly understood."

Isaac also took issue with a central element of the Enquirer’s story — an unattributed assertion by the paper that CPD has gone $1.8 million over budget by spending $7.4 million on overtime pay. Isaac says the department hasn’t gone over budget at all during his time as chief and called the Enquirer’s number wrong.

“It is important to note that the department strongly adheres to the city budget oversight process and spending oversight... also emphasizing again that the department has not exceeded budget parameters in my tenure,” Isaac wrote in his memo.

In a series of text messages to Cincinnati City Council members, Black called the Enquirer “complicit” in an effort by a “rogue element” of officers within the Cincinnati Police Department he says are corrupt and working to undermine CPD Chief Isaac, perhaps motivated in part by race. Black hasn’t named the CPD employees he says have gone rogue. The city manager also said in those text messages that he’s mulling getting the U.S. Attorney’s office involved in the matter.

The next day, Feb. 8, revelations came that assistant chief Bailey was taking a buyout and leaving CPD immediately. FOP president Dan Hils charged that Bailey was being "forced out" by chief Isaac and city manager Black. The city will pay Bailey's salary, benefits and vacation time until his slated retirement date in 2020 — a package worth roughly $400,000.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils has said there’s no evidence of any rogue officers within CPD. Mayor John Cranley has asked for more evidence backing up Black’s claims. He called Bailey’s firing “sad.”

Some Cincinnati City Council members also expressed consternation at the move. Some questioned his severance package, while others said his abrupt dismissal was disrespectful.

“I’ve worked with Lt. Col. David Bailey for over 6 years now,” Councilman Chris Seelbach tweeted Feb. 8. “He’s a good guy who has served our City well. Disappointing to again see City Manager Harry Black dismiss someone with little respect for their service. The Lt. Col. and our City deserves better.”