What Is The Real Cost Of Dallas Police Overtime?

There are at least two ways to interpret a newly released city audit of the Dallas Police Department’s use of overtime, which was meant to determine whether there has been any waste or fraud at the city’s expense.

“The upshot is that the auditor found no evidence of fraud or abuse,” Mayor Eric Johnson says in his weekly newsletter. That’s good political news for Johnson, who called for the audit last year after another budget season dominated by a heated debate over police overtime. The mayor has staked out a position that favors giving the department all the overtime funding it’s asking for. Last year, a majority of the Council cut the overtime budget by about $7 million. 

But Johnson isn’t adding any gloss that isn’t in the language of the audit itself, which concludes there was no “unusual employee overtime usage that indicates waste or abuse” at the police department between October 2018 and December 2020.

Mayor Pro Tem Chad West, however, sees something different in the report’s findings.

“When you dig into it you can see there’s obviously a huge problem here,” West says. “You have $18 million from last year’s overtime that is just missing, completely unaccounted for whatsoever with no record of where it went. Maybe DPD has a record, but the audit’s not reflecting that.”

The city auditor’s office didn’t return a voicemail left Tuesday afternoon. 

In the interim report—a final version with recommendations is due in a couple months—City Auditor Mark Swann writes that auditors talked to DPD supervisors and reviewed a “judgmental sample of 339 overtime and compensatory time transactions.” The auditors found that “of the 151 transactions with supporting documentation, zero looked suspicious in terms of waste or abuse.” 

West says he believes that means about 56 percent of last year’s overtime budget wasn’t properly documented, according to the audit.

“It’s very possible we have an explanation for this, that the money’s somewhere,” West says. “But the audit doesn’t reflect that.”

The audit does note that there was an overtime card for 260 of the transactions, 257 of which were “properly requested.”

“Most overtime at the Dallas Police Department is unplanned and therefore does not require a formal pre-authorization,” the audit reads. “Dallas Police Department employees must record all overtime or compensatory time earned by the employee’s next work day.”

The audit report does not define what “supporting documentation” is, but does make reference to records like “detail sheets” and entries in the city’s payroll system, Workday. Supervisors are charged with reviewing overtime records to ensure “that overtime was justified.”

Last week, West proposed a budget amendment that would redirect $10 million from the police department’s $28 million overtime budget for next year into a special reserve fund. To get at that $10 million in overtime spending, police would have to first brief the City Council on how it was using those dollars.

“I believe you can support public safety, and the $550 million budget that [Police Chief Eddie Garcia] has put forward, which I have, and simply ask for a checkpoint before $10 million out of the tens of millions in overtime is released,” West says.

West’s proposal passed 8-7, but two of the yeas—Jaynie Schultz and Gay Donnell Willis—have since changed their minds. It is unlikely the amendment will stick by the time the budget is adopted. The Dallas Police Department will be able to get all its overtime funding without having to ask for any of it.

In a statement, Willis says the audit convinced her that growing the overtime budget was appropriate. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic, protests surrounding a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd, and this February’s freeze kept officers busy. “Overtime has become the norm and not the exception during times when police services are in a period of exceptionally high demand,” she wrote in a statement to constituents.

Schultz says she’d initially voted in favor of West’s amendment as a way to signal her support for local control in the wake of a new state law that would see cities punished for reducing their police budgets. “I thought it would preserve our budget from HB 1900,” Schultz says. In other words, she thought stashing away the $10 million would give the city more flexibility to write its own budget without state interference. 

Schultz says that when she learned that wasn’t the case, she decided to join the opposition against the amendment.

“It wasn’t the fact that it was the police department, because my support for that is unequivocal,” Schultz says.

No one on City Council is even breathing the word “defund.” They never have.

West has repeatedly voiced his support for the police department, its new chief, and for the budget the chief wants. But he says having that “checkpoint” on $10 million in spending would show accountability and responsibility in how the city spends its money, particularly as questions persist about the use of overtime.

Police officials said last week the department has already spent its $17 million overtime budget for the year, and could double its expenses by the end of the month. Garcia told the Dallas Morning News the police department “will need” all the overtime money it’s asking for for next year, including the $10 million.

Police spending remains a hot-button political issue, which contributes to the extent it dominates budget discussions. Public safety already makes up by far the biggest chunk of the city’s budget.

“Down the road, many years from now, there are two things that are going to change our public safety budget, and that’s jobs and housing,” Schultz says. “When our city is truly secure in jobs and housing, we’re going to see a massive reduction in crime that hopefully leads to less of a need for such a large public safety budget.”

Source : https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2021/09/what-is-the-real-cost-of-dallas-police-overtime/

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