Changes Coming to Overtime Policies, Cincinnati Police Chief Says

A state audit sparked by controversy around CPD overtime spending found that oversight in the department was lax, though no laws were broken.

click to enlarge Cincinnati Police headquarters - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Police headquarters

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac told Cincinnati City Council today that the department is working to keep overtime spending under control as council mulls the department's — and the city's — budget. 

The update on the department's budget comes after the office of State Auditor Keith Faber recommended changes to the way CPD administers its overtime spending. That audit didn't find criminal behavior around the department's overtime program — a claim made after a draft of an internal audit of overtime spending was leaked to media outlets last year — but did say that the department needed to exercise tighter control over its overtime spending.

CPD will spend $146.6 million in fiscal year 2019, according to CPD Chief Eliot Isaac. That's a big increase over the department's $126 million budget in fiscal year 2015, made even bigger by the fact that the multi-million-dollar budget for the city's Emergency Communications Center was decoupled from police spending in fiscal year 2017.

Roughly 90 percent of the budget goes to personnel and benefits for them, according to CPD officials. Some $6 million of that money is spent on police overtime. 

The state audit, completed by Faber's predecessor David Yost at the request of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, noted that the department didn't have clear guidelines for distributing overtime hours fairly, nor did it have enough limits on compensatory time — which officers can save up instead of getting paid overtime and cash out at the end of their careers at their last pay rate. The audit also noted that the department didn't have clear boundaries set up to keep officers from inappropriately taking paid time off and then turning around and signing up for special shifts that would net them overtime pay.

"The city lacked clear policies related to earning overtime on the same day that vacation or comp time leave was taken," the audit reads. "While there are legitimate reasons for officers being called to duty on the same day they have taken leave, the city has no policy to provide clear guidance on the approval and documentation of the reason the overtime was requested. The lack of policy increases the risk that officers could manipulate their schedules to obtain payment for overtime that is not required."

CPD Chief Isaac says the department has made or is making the recommended changes. Among them: requiring a captain or above to approve overtime hours for officers, trying to spread out overtime over a larger number of officers when possible, working on limits to comp time accrual and limiting overtime for officers who have taken paid time off on the same day. That change will be harder to make, Isaac said, because it means changing labor contracts. 

Isaac said that, over the course of their careers, some CPD employees have accrued large amounts of comp time that gets paid out when they retire — as much as 1,000 hours, and, in one case, an incredible 10,000 hours. Regular officers have a cap of 480 hours, Isaac said, but that's not true for higher-ranking sergeants and lieutenants. 

“it seems to me, from a broad-brush reading, that one issue has been who oversees approvals of overtime," Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee Chair David Mann said today. "As I understand it, whatever the past practice has been, we’re getting away from self-approval. Whatever you rank, someone else has to approve your overtime.”

Isaac said that would be the practice, and that officers in most circumstances wouldn't be able to take paid time off to then work what are called "police visibility operations" at things like festivals and other public events. 

"What we didn’t want is people taking off their working hours and working overtime, specifically for PVO overtime hours," he said. "We did not want that to happen, though there are rare circumstances where individuals take time off to work overtime.”

The scrutiny around the overtime spending started after The Cincinnati Enquirer published a story in February 2018 pulling from the allegedly unfinished audit and claiming that CPD was over budget on its overtime spending. The report raised ire from Isaac and Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black.

Two days later, Isaac fired back with a memo that he said showed the correct figures and refuted the claim that CPD was over budget. 

The 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.

The leak caused a snowballing series of political intrigues.

District Five Captain Bridget Bardua made roughly $80,000 on overtime and compensatory time in 2017, according to the unfinished internal audit, roughly $20,000 more than other district commanders. Two sergeants in Bardua’s district each made about $90,000 in overtime last year, the unfinished audit claimed. 

But the internal audit hadn’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 agreed 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. "This is because the audit remains incomplete and requires a number of caveats in order to be properly understood."

Isaac mainly took issue with a central element of the Enquirer’s story — an assertion 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.

The internal audit is caught up in a web of lawsuits and counter-suits. Assistant Chiefs Dave Bailey and Paul Neudigate, along with Captain Jeff Butler, had earlier been named in a gender discrimination lawsuit against the city by Bardua, who said the three had singled her out in the audit because she supported Chief Isaac.

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 Isaac and 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.

Hils said there was no evidence of any rogue officers within CPD. Mayor John Cranley called Bailey’s firing “sad," and days later, demanded that Black resign, setting off a month-long stalemate between Cranley, Black and council, which at first refused to vote to fire Black. 

After Black's eventual ouster last spring, Butler amended a lawsuit he filed in 2017 to include claims of "felony theft" of overtime funds by some officers in CPD. In his lawsuit against the city, Butler says a box of documents related to the draft audit that had been stored at CPD has gone missing.

Butler and his attorney have pointed to changes in CPD overtime spending since the controversy around the internal draft audit as evidence that misspending was occurring. Overtime spending within CPD dropped roughly 47 percent overall last year, according to the state's audit.