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Honolulu City Council seeks audit of HPD overtime policies, procedures

The Honolulu City Council wants an audit conducted of the Honolulu Police Department to examine the department’s overtime policies, protocols and procedures following overtime abuse that was detected months ago.

City Council Chairman Tommy Waters introduced Resolution 21-58 today to direct the City Auditor to find out whether the police department’s policies, protocols and procedures “ensure the fair and equitable distribution of such overtime to all HPD officers, rather than just to certain HPD officers” and “that HPD overtime privileges are not abused.”

The resolution would have the auditor make recommendations to address overtime distribution and abuse and “reduce the overall amount of overtime compensation being paid by the City to HPD officers.”

The resolution acknowledges HPD’s growing overtime expenses during an also-growing officer shortage, which is also a focus for Waters.

“It’s important that HPD continues to focus on filling vacancies, and this measure seeks to ensure that overtime is being distributed in a fair and equitable manner to all police officers,” Waters said in a brief statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

A 2020 Service Efforts and Accomplishments report by the city auditor found that, between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, HPD overtime pay has nearly doubled — up to $38.3 million in fiscal year 2019 from $19.4 million in 2015.

During the same period, the SEA report found that HPD’s full-time vacancies jumped by 77% — up to 304 full-time vacancies in fiscal year 2019 from 172 in 2015.

As of Feb. 8, HPD’s current shortage was at 324 officers, and the department is continuing efforts to speed up recruitment in an attempt to get more officers in the field.

HPD has said in the past that overtime has been used to fill shortages in staffing.

Also noted in the resolution is an ongoing internal investigation in which police officers appeared to have blatantly abused overtime funded by federal COVID-19 relief aid.

Police Chief Susan Ballard in November suspended the department’s COVID-19 enforcement teams after an internal audit found that nearly 60 police officers reported more than 130 hours of overtime during a five-week period between September and October, including two officers who reported more than 300 hours in the same span.

An internal memo said officers were allowed a maximum of 20 hours of overtime per week, or 100 hours during the five-week period.

In late October, the city reported that $16 million of $17 million in CARES Act funding meant for overtime was set aside for HPD.

Ballard has since been investigating the overtime abuse, which she told the Honolulu Police Commission would take months to conduct.

When commissioner Richard Parry asked for an update in the Feb. 3 commission meeting, Ballard said four officers “had their police powers removed” but wouldn’t comment further because the investigation was still ongoing. HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the officers have been “reassigned to desk duty.”

Commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado in a statement said “the investigation has taken longer than expected” but that the commission is getting updated regularly. She said the commission will review the resolution during its March 3 meeting.

Waters, via the resolution, also expressed concern that overtime could leave the city with long-term expenses in the form of police retirement contributions.

“The addition of overtime pay as part of a veteran HPD officer’s salary can be very lucrative in light of the fact that such overtime pay would be included in the officer’s pension calculation if the officer joined the HPD prior to July 1, 2012, thereby increasing the amount of the HPD officer’s overall retirement compensation,” the resolution said.

The city council in December received an earlier HPD audit after directing the city auditor to examine the department’s ability to identify, respond to and prevent misconduct.

That audit, inspired by the scandal involving the former Police Chief Louis Kealoha and former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Ke­aloha, found that the department “is generally responsive in identifying and correcting officer misconduct” but could do more to prevent it.

HPD declined to comment on the resolution because it had not yet reviewed it.

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