State audit finds 'systematic’ overtime problem in Cincinnati

One police officer collected more than $108K in OT, review finds

State audit finds 'systematic’ overtime problem in Cincinnati
The city of Cincinnati's latest financial audit is out. (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The latest state audit of the city of Cincinnati is out, and while it did not produce any material findings, state auditors said they found systematic internal controls of overtime at Cincinnati police and fire departments and in public works.

They recommended changes and improvements in how overtime wages and compensatory time is handled.

“As recipients of taxpayer dollars, city governments have a responsibility to have proper and effective policies in place surrounding their overtime activity,” Auditor Keith Faber said. “I encourage city leaders to consider our office’s recommendations and work together to tighten up their guidelines.”

Auditors issued several recommendations for the improvement of the city’s OT and comp time policies and procedures including:

  • Improving the documentation of hours
  • Reassessing internal procedures for assigning overtime
  • Capping the amount of compensatory time an employee can accumulate

“We looked at the entire city, not just the police department. Our initial opinion is that they have a systematic overtime problem," Faber said in an interview while he was in town Thursday.

"They didn’t have enough proper checks and balances and controls on overtime citywide and so what that resulted in is what you noticed in the police department. A few individuals had very large amounts of overtime. That’s not good for the individual, it’s not really good for the city and the fact of the matter is, what you do when you have somebody working that much overtime is how prepared are they to do their normal duties during their shift to be able to perform their ordinary duties.”

WATCH: Ohio State Auditor Keith Faber talks with me about the city of Cincinnati audit, police overtime, "Gang of Five" and Pike County investigation into allegation of misconduct by Sheriff Charlie Reader.

Posted by Jennifer Edwards Baker on Thursday, March 14, 2019

The overtime was all for a government purpose, all verified and properly authorized, he noted, so that’s why there are no findings for recovery (assertions public money was misspent and must be repaid).

“The question is should it have been distributed better across their platform or, frankly, did they need to utilize overhead? That’s a management question."

Overtime in the police department fell 47 percent last year once the audit began, he said, indicating something was off.

“You can see after they were alerted to this problem, overtime generally came down almost 50 percent so you can tell something unusual was going on. Whether it was concentrating overtime in a few people, whether it was using it when it wasn’t necessary, one of the things we identified - and while there may be good reasons to do that - having people take leave time for part of their shift and then working overtime in the same day, that’s relatively unusual," Faber said.

"That benefits the employee, but it may not benefit the taxpayers and so the question is there may be circumstances that’s a good idea and appropriate but individually and on a case by case basis, they should be rare. It’s important that the city take that issue to heart and move forward and we are going to be looking to see how they now on their next audit.

State auditors also reviewed all sources of funds received by the city for its Emergency Communications (911) Center. The office did not identify any misuse of these funds.

A full copy of this report is available online.

Last year, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked the State Auditors’ Office to review police overtime after allegations of “felony abuse” while Police Chief Eliot Isaac turned a blind eye.

Deters said last month he and Yost agreed that, while no crime occurred, some officers took advantage of the system to maximize their compensation.

Deters: No crime, but some officers purposely maximized their OT

It is not clear if Cincinnati police officials plan to pursue administrative charges against those officers, or how many there are.

This overtime was all approved and within CPD policy, including one officer who collected more than $108,000, former State Auditor Dave Yost noted in a letter to city officials.

“The city lacked clear policies related to earning overtime on the same day that vacation or comp time leave was taken. ...The lack of policy increases the risk that officers could manipulate their schedules to obtain payment for overtime that is not required,” Yost wrote Dec. 28. The letter was released early Thursday.

Auditors also found inaccurate and incomplete overtime forms and noted the city had no policy about how much comp time an officer could accrue before either using comp time or getting payout at current wage for accrued comp time.

A sample showed 21 out of 25 officers had accrued time ranging from 2 to 677 hours valuing $90 to $26,325, Yost wrote.

“Lack of policies.....could result in a significant liability and related payout when officers retire and receive payouts for large comp time balances at their current wage at retirement,” his letter states.

Auditors basically agreed with an interdepartmental audit released in early 2018 that caused much controversy and alleged the system was vulnerable for abuse and was being abused by some.

But they found the figures in that audit were off by a total of $67,481.13. They identified inaccuracies and amounts paid in OT overstated in 21 of the 25 officers audited. They said internal audits must be accurate.

There is no mention, however, from the auditor’s office of a missing box of audit records that vanished over the last year at CPD.

Captain Jeff Butler compiled the records as he conducted the audit.

He has since amended an existing federal lawsuit against former City Manager Harry Black, current Assistant City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian and others to add the chief and allegations of “felony theft." He also accuses Black of misusing the funds for the 911 center.

Earlier this week, when we learned the audit’s release was imminent, we reached out to Cincinnati police for a comment from the chief or someone on his behalf.

We received the following response five minutes later: “No one is available at this time," a spokesman, Sgt. Eric Franz, wrote in an email.

We reached out to them again Thursday now that the audit is out, as well as all city leaders including Mayor John Cranley.

“I am pleased to hear from the state auditor’s office that there was no evidence of any criminal activity or misuse of funds related to the overtime wages and compensatory time within the Cincinnati Police Department,” Councilman Jeff Pastor said in a statement.

“However, I do understand that the auditor has offered several recommendations for the city to consider with regard to more specific guidelines and policies for overtime and comp time for our officers. I welcome these recommendations, and I will do my part to implement the recommended changes.”

City Councilmen David Mann and Greg Landsman asked late last year for an update on police overtime spending amid the state review and a $19 million deficit in the upcoming budget.

RELATED | 2 councilmen call for update on CPD overtime, manpower

On Monday, Mann said that update was expected "soon.” He said the chief had been “preparing remarks.”

While police officials are not talking publicly, they did quietly unveil new overtime procedures twice this year.

The new policies rolled out in January and again in February, require more oversight and documentation.

Police overtime, meanwhile, dramatically plunged the first part of 2018 compared with the same time period the previous year by a total $161,151.71 in three units at one district noted for high overtime in a previous interdepartmental audit.

The reason for such a massive drop at Cincinnati Police District 5 is not explained in the interdepartmental audit, which is posted on the city’s website.

Cincinnati police records show a breakdown of police overtime for the first 13 pay periods of 2018 compared with 2017. There is a dramatic drop in overtime at District 5. (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)
Cincinnati police records show a breakdown of police overtime for the first 13 pay periods of 2018 compared with 2017. There is a dramatic drop in overtime at District 5. (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)

A draft of the last interdepartmental audit, turned over to Isaac in early 2018, concluded the previous District 5 commander, Capt. Bridget Bardua, collected overtime and compensatory pay valued at about $80,000, about $20,000 more than any other district commander. It also found she approved overtime and compensatory time for two of her sergeants worth at least $90,000 each.

Cincinnati police officials have disputed the audit’s findings, saying it was a draft that was leaked to the media, not a final version. It was leaked before it was checked for accuracy and had inaccurate figures, and has since been updated with correct and lower totals, city memos show.

Bardua and another person who was among the highest overtime in the draft audit, Jason Voelkerding, are no longer at District 5.

Bardua is a captain running Special Investigation Section. according to CPD’s latest organizational chart. Voelkerding, who is now a lieutenant, was working in District 4 before he was transferred Sunday to oversee the Major Offenders Unit, FOX19 NOW has learned.

Shortly after the audit was turned over to the chief in early 2018, Bardua filed a sexual discrimination complaint.

She accused two assistant chiefs, Dave Bailey and Paul Neudigate, who was Bardua’s direct supervisor at the time, and Captain Jeff Butler, of singling her out in the audit because she’s a woman and “also because I support an African American Chief of Cincinnati Police.”

The status of the complaint is unclear, more than a year after it was filed.

Butler’s lawyer said Monday there was nothing new.

FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker
FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker

Black was so upset the audit was leaked, he called for federal prosecutors to investigate what he described as a “rogue element" corrupt in the police department in an effort to undermine the police chief’s authority.

Two days after the audit was leaked, Bailey was forced out.

RELATED | CPD’s 2nd in command: I was ousted after audit found ‘exorbitant amounts’ of OT

The day after Bailey was gone, the mayor asked Black to resign. The mayor later explained he asked him to go over a pattern of “abusive” and “retaliatory" behavior. Black refused go to, and an intense public feud erupted between the two men.

A month later, Black resigned seconds before a special City Council meeting was called to order to fire him. By then, he’d lost majority council support in the wake of the Kyle Plush tragedy.

In the midst of the state audit, it was revealed a box of audit records gathered by Butler had vanished within the police department.

Butler asked the current city manager, Patrick Duhaney, for an outside criminal and/or administrative investigation.

Butler and his lawyer, Brian Gillan, said Duhaney didn't respond.

In October, they amended Butler’s lawsuit again, alleging “spoliation of evidence.” At last check, the box remains MIA.

PREVIOUS | Did CPD misplace or destroy evidence in state overtime audit?

Late last year, as the state audit was wrapping up and months after police officials knew the box went missing, the police chief launched an internal investigation into the box’s disappearance.

But now, according to a memo obtained last month by FOX19 NOW, there are allegations of a conflict of interest in that probe.

READ MORE | Memo: ‘Several conflicts of interests’ in missing box probe

Cincinnati police have not publicly commented on the internal investigation or the missing box, and it is not mentioned in the audit out Thursday.

Butler’s lawyer has said the latest interdepartmental police audit’s findings validate Butler and Bailey’s conclusions in the previous audit that the system was being abused.

On Thursday, he said the audit further validated their findings.

“On the whole, we are encouraged with the release of the State of the Auditor Management Letter associated with the review of issues highlighted in the Semi-Annual Audit prepared by the Inspections Section under the command of Executive Assistant Police Chief David Bailey and Captain Jeffrey Butler, Jr. The Auditor’s report confirms and supports the issues with management and abuses they reported,” Gillan said.

"Although the Auditor was of the opinion that the abuse of the overtime procedures did not justify a criminal referral, we hope the Cincinnati Police Department does not hold itself to such a low standard. ‘See, we didn’t commit any crimes’ is not a ringing endorsement of police conduct.

“We are concerned with the lack of availability of critical documents required to properly complete the audit,” Gillan continued.. "Due to that missing box of files, the Auditor was limited in his review to documents “recreated” by the City. The Auditor confirms in the report that some records were unavailable.

"The abuse or manipulation of overtime was confirmed and published in a separate audit completed by Inspections Section Captain Dennis Swingley in December of 2018 detailing a reduction in overtime exceeding $160,000 in three units of District Five, following the transfer of the Police Commander and a Police Sergeant for the next period audited. The taxpayers of Cincinnati can draw their own conclusions as to cause and effect there.

"We encourage a close comparison between Semi-Annual Audits prepared by Executive Assistant Police Chief David Bailey and Captain Jeffrey Butler, Jr. to the findings of the State of the Auditor Management letter.

“As to the Auditor’s statement that his office “did not identify any misuse of [911] funds,” we note that the Auditor relied upon the City’s self-reporting of 2017 – 2018 data, not the 2015 – 2016 data which was the basis for Captain Butler’s complaints to the City Manager as detailed in the federal lawsuit. We stand by our allegations in that lawsuit regarding the City’s misuse of 911 funds.”

Thursday night, city officials released memos and other documents they wrote earlier in the day to respond to the audit.

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