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HPD investigation into COVID-19 overtime violations will take months, chief says

It will be months before the Honolulu Police Department can publicly report on the apparent overtime violations within the department’s COVID enforcement teams, according to HPD Chief Susan Ballard.

Ballard suspended the CET to investigate police officers who appeared to exceed the amount of overtime work allotted to them. An internal memo dated Nov. 10 reported on an audit that found 59 police officers who had worked more than 130 hours in overtime between late September through October, including two officers who worked more than 300 hours in overtime.

The memo noted that officers were not allowed to work more than 100 hours in overtime during the five-week period, or 20 hours per week.

When asked about it during a Honolulu Police Commission meeting on Wednesday, Ballard said she can’t share the particulars of the ongoing investigation. When asked why, she said the investigation will “probably take more than several months” in part because the enforcement teams involved so many officers — about 160 officers volunteer at a time, although the total number of officers involved is likely to be higher.

“There’s a large number of people who participated in this program,” Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday. “And we have to pull overtime cards, we have to pull work records, we have to do interviews of all these people to make sure officers have a very thorough and fair investigation … so that if any discipline is needed, we give them the due process by collective bargaining agreement.”

When Commissioner Richard Parry asked Ballard if she’s going to wait until the investigation is complete before reporting or taking action, she said the department would take action as the investigation goes on, but could not comment on when she could report on anything to the commission.

Parry was concerned about the timeline, preferring instead to be informed about the investigation as it continues.

“This is an issue that’s very troubling, and I think we should be looking for answers more quickly instead of waiting several months,” he said.

Ballard, expanding on a Monday statement posted on the HPD Facebook page, did say that officers’ supervisors, who track overtime, share the responsibility of making sure such abuse is avoided.

“The bottom line is it’s the supervisor’s responsibility for their officers,” she said.

One of the possible outcomes of the investigations is changing the minimum requirements for becoming a supervisor, Ballard said.

Ballard declined to get into detail when Parry asked why the overtime audit was conducted in the first place, but noted that the reported overtime “was something that caught our eye.”

She also declined to comment when Parry asked if she was confident the officers did the amount of overtime work that they reported. Parry noted the officers who claimed to have worked 300 hours of overtime over the course of five weeks — an average of 60 hours of overtime per week.

Although the enforcement teams have been suspended, Ballard said the COVID-19 call center is still operating, allowing officers to continue to respond to calls regarding COVID-19 violations.

The call center, like the enforcement teams prior to their suspension, is funded by the CARES Act, although HPD said the police officers who are staffing the call center are not the same as those who were signing up for the enforcement teams.

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the call center officers are still being paid overtime but did not say how many officers are doing that work.

Yu said there are no plans to reinstate the enforcement teams while investigations are ongoing.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell in late October reported to the Honolulu City Council that $16 million from the CARES Act was allocated to overtime for HPD. The City and County of Honolulu has received a total of $387 million from CARES Act to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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