By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO
The AFRO has filed a formal public information act request to obtain the findings of a controversial audit of Baltimore Police Department (BPD) overtime spending that has yet to be released. The request was filed after city officials continued to block the release of a taxpayer funded audit, which was commissioned over two years ago but has remained secret.
City officials have withheld the full document from the public arguing it was privileged information that was part of an ongoing lawsuit with the city’s powerful police union. The lawsuit filed by the FOP Lodge 3 alleges the city has actually underpaid officers, despite the fact police overtime cost the city roughly $50 million last year.
Former city solicitor Andre Davis confirmed to the AFRO the city was still withholding the full report pending the outcome of the lawsuit. Davis originally made the claim that the audit was an attorney client work product, meaning it was deemed confidential.
Baltimore Police Officer (AP)
“The case is continuing in federal court,” Davis confirmed in an email.
The city released a nine-page executive summary of the audit in 2018. The condensed report cited an alarming lack of oversight and lax procedures for paying overtime. It also found that the department’s internal affairs division did not discipline officers who abused overtime.
The summary also revealed how much the practice of overtime abuse costs the taxpayers. Over a five-year period between 2012 to 2017, overtime spending totaled $170 million, roughly $100 million over budget. In 2019 police spent approximately $48 million on overtime.
Since then Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has vowed to curb costs.
But, the issue has resurfaced after the recent indictment of Sgt. Ethan Newberg, one of the city’s top overtime earners.
Newberg was charged with over 30 counts of misconduct and false imprisonment after he was caught on body camera footage allegedly arresting a city residents on bogus charges.
The charges raised questions not only about the city’s compliance with the federal consent decree, but the overtime pay that contributed to Newberg’s $243,00 salary, which made him one of the highest paid employees in the city.
Overtime abuse also played a key role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. The group of eight officers who were charged with dealing drugs and stealing from residents were also convicted of fraudulently obtaining overtime pay.
In 2017, Lt. Steven Bagshaw was charged with receiving overtime pay when he was not working. Bagshaw was convicted of theft by a Baltimore City jury but circuit court judge Melissa Phinn refused to give him jail time.
The continued abuse of overtime pay by the department and alleged stonewalling by city officials is prompting calls for transparency by some.
“I believe the full audit report should be released,” City Council President and mayoral candidate Brandon Scott told the AFRO.
“We have to be transparent and open in everything we do,” Scott said.
Scott pointed to monthly oversight meetings held by the council’s Public Safety Committee with top BPD officials as proof of the council’s commitment to watching how the city’s largest agency spends money.
“This has always been something at the top of my mind,” said Scott.
Current Mayor Jack Young and mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah did not respond to requests for comment.