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Do You Have What it Takes to Change a Culture?
By Kevin Smith

BACKGROUND

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) has recently been making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Most notably, a January 2017 Department of Justice report found, among other troubling things, that CPD’s deficient accountability systems and insufficient supervisory oversight allowed officer misconduct to occur and a culture of abuse to prevail.1 At the same time, our office observed that from 2011 to 2016, CPD’s actual spending on overtime increased from $42.2 million to $146.0 million, all of which greatly exceeded the Department’s budget. In fact, in 2016, the Department exceeded its overtime budget by $66.4 million. We conducted an audit to determine if CPD effectively monitored and managed overtime to control costs, curb abuse, and prevent officer fatigue. More broadly, however, we discovered an entire culture that had built up around overtime—daunting stuff to audit!
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CHALLENGES

This audit presented several challenges. The first, the logistics. Although the Department maintained overtime records in an electronic management system (CLEAR), these records were supported by a paper-based record keeping system in which officers2 recorded their overtime hours and timekeeping staff made calculations by hand. Thus, not only would we be analyzing records in CLEAR, but we would also need to assess the accuracy of the paper-based process. Therein lay the challenge. These hardcopy overtime records were stored at the police district in which they were earned, all throughout the city.

The second challenge was more fundamental. As we moved through the planning phase of our audit, we developed testimonial evidence of a culture that encouraged and reinforced abuse of overtime. How do you prove a broken culture? Moreover, management was aware that the timekeeping system was riddled with errors but did nothing to correct it. Indeed, they touted their electronic management tool and yet, when pressed on its contents, quickly caveated that the data was not reliable.

To overcome these challenges, we decided to conduct a controls-focused audit. This allowed us to limit the resources devoted to testing hardcopy records, while still speaking to the control environment—which we suspected was fostering abuse.

We spoke with former police officers who tipped us off to abusive practices that had grown so common as to garner their own colloquial terms. We shadowed current timekeeping staff as they processed officers’ timesheets and took note of control weaknesses that would not only allow errors but facilitate abuse. In time, we gathered so many kernels of findings that they became difficult to organize into a coherent narrative. For this, we leaned heavily on the GAO Greenbook to provide a framework. We found that our kernels could be largely organized into weaknesses in the Department’s control environment and control activities.

In addition, we spoke with the City of Seattle’s Auditor’s Office, who had recently published a similar controls-focused audit. Their insight was invaluable for our planning, but also in providing us with a way to translate auditor jargon—control environment and control activities—into something slightly more digestible to our audience: management controls and operational controls.


FINDINGS

Although we had findings which demonstrated inaccuracies and errors discovered in this system, I want to focus on four examples of how control gaps allowed, and in some ways encouraged, a culture of abuse.

We found that CPD’s operational controls were inadequate to deter abuse of “minimum time” provisions—a weakness due in large part to the manual, paper-based timekeeping and overtime approval process. The Department utilizes “minimum time” provisions to pay officers who are called back in to work during their time off. These provisions credit officers with a minimum of 3 hours pay for as little as 15 minutes of actual work. The intent is to compensate the officers for travel time. Yet, we found examples in which this provision was used in instances which did not require travel, such as taking a phone call—imagine three hours of pay for taking your boss’s call at the local ball park after work.

Second, we found that the Department’s management controls did not adequately detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse, prevent officer fatigue, or control costs. Through testimonial evidence, we identified potentially abusive practices. We then asked Department management what they were doing to prevent these practices. While they acknowledged that the abusive practices existed, they could not demonstrate any controls that might detect or prevent them. Within the Department, these practices were known as:

  • “Trolling”: Actively pursuing situations that result in Extension of Tour overtime, such as: (a) volunteering for calls at or past the end of a shift notwithstanding the fact that fresh officers have already come on duty; (b) actively seeking a traffic, disorderly conduct, or other violation at the end of a shift; and (c) making an arrest at the end of a shift as a result of escalating a situation which would have been within the officer’s discretion to dismiss.
  • “Paper jumping”: Requesting to be included on an arrest report despite having little or no involvement in the arrest, specifically for the purpose of earning overtime by being called to court.
  • “Lingering”: Reporting to court and increasing overtime pay by staying longer than needed. 
  • “DUI guys”: Self-appointing as a DUI specialist and taking over DUI arrests initiated by other officers to earn overtime by appearing in court.

Other jurisdictions have developed creative names for similar practices, such as “collars for dollars.” Are you aware of any in yours?

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We also found that CLEAR, which should be a powerful management tool, was riddled with incomplete data. For example, over a two-year period, we found $27.6 million worth of overtime that lacked a record of authorization or approval.

Compounding this, we found that management did not monitor overtime data to assess and respond to trends. For example, over that same two-year period, we found:
       
  • nearly $1 million worth of overtime that appeared to be self-authorized or self-approved;
  • almost $40 million that appeared to have been approved by a member’s peer or subordinate; and
  • over 600 instances of two-way relationships in which officers apparently approved each other’s overtime in a reciprocal manner.

These are all things that a robust monitoring system should flag for review or that an automated system would prevent.
Finally, we found that the Department’s directives related to timekeeping were out-of-date, did not provide enough detail to ensure consistent application, and did not include policies to prevent excessive overtime.

Excessive work hours can contribute to officer fatigue, which can increase the likelihood that officers will be injured on the job, involved in vehicle accidents, or exercise poor judgment under stress. Other jurisdictions have policies limiting the number of hours an officer can work in a given time period. For example, the Cincinnati Police Department limits shifts to 18 hours per 24-hour period, while the New Orleans Police Department limits overtime to 32 hours a week. Nevertheless, we found that CPD had no such policies to address officer fatigue.

We recommended that Department management set a “tone at the top” that emphasizes the importance of accurate, verifiable timekeeping records, ensure staff were using management tools available, and hold supervisors accountable. We also recommended that the Department implement an automated timekeeping system that established controls where necessary to meet these goals.


TAKEAWAYS

This audit provided us with several lessons learned. Although we were faced with “culture,” which was hard to quantify, it did not mean that we had to walk away. Rather, this was an opportunity to get creative. In our case, we chose to speak about the management and operational controls that were key mechanisms by which the Department could have influenced the culture of their officers.

Second, although some of our findings detailing a culture of abuse were supported only by testimonial evidence (or primarily by testimonial evidence), we included these in our final report because we received confirmation from CPD management and staff. This was the result of having a strategy for interviews which resulted in CPD management confirming anecdotes that we had heard and providing additional detail. For example, once we had heard about the practice of “paper-jumping” we were able to ask management: “Tell us what you are doing to prevent ‘paper-jumping’?”

Third, although non-overtime payroll was not in scope for the audit, the project was able to address issues with the Department’s timekeeping process beyond the scope of testing. While overtime is only one part of timekeeping, addressing overtime issues forced the Department to correct issues affecting payroll and timekeeping more broadly. Specifically, the steps that CPD planned to take, such as implementing an electronic swiping and timekeeping system, should also help to address concerns about the manual nature of payroll and timekeeping generally.

Finally, reading model audits is a great place to start for developing strategies to address challenging audit topics and do not be afraid to reach out to the report’s author. One conversation can save tons of time by providing a roadmap, all while building camaraderie with a fellow auditor.

To read the full audit report, visit our website at: https://igchicago.org/2017/10/03/cpd-overtime-controls-audit/ .


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Smith is a Performance Analyst with the City of Chicago's Office of Inspector General, where he has worked since 2015. Kevin holds a Bachelor and Master of Public Administration from The University of Kansas.


NOTES

1 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Investigation of the Chicago Police Department. Washington, D.C., 2015. Accessed August 17,2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/925846/download

2 I will use the term “officers” to refer to Department members of all ranks who receive overtime.