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Court overtime pay probed

By Scott J. Croteau TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
[email protected]

WORCESTER- At least six city police officers are under investigation for fraudulently claiming overtime pay for time spent testifying in court cases.

The alleged double-dipping - claiming overtime for court appearances made when the officers actually were on regularly scheduled duty or on vacation -- was uncovered in audits of Police Department expenditures between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year. The total amount in question is between $80,000 and $100,000.

In a lengthy interview yesterday, Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said auditors will inspect court overtime payments before Jan. 1 if necessary. He declined to identify the officers allegedly involved, noting that an internal police investigation into the matter is under way.

During the interview, the chief frequently referred to "at least a half-dozen" cases of "very serious abuse" of court overtime procedures and "manipulation of schedules."

The Telegram & Gazette has learned that seven police officers - all of whom work day shifts - have been reassigned as a result of information uncovered during an audit of overtime pay, particularly overtime paid for court appearances. The seven - a lieutenant, three sergeants and three other officers - had worked in the department's vice squad and license division.

Chief Gemme declined to comment on whether the reassignments resulted from information uncovered in the audit.

"I am not going to comment on any ongoing investigation," Chief Gemme said. "I don't believe it is fair to any officer that has not been found responsible of wrongdoing."

In a subsequent interview, City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said that "immediate decisive personnel actions were taken once these potential and alleged overtime abuses were discovered." The manager said the situation was brought to his attention late last week.

"I can assure you, without question, of due process and the full and complete pursuit of these allegations under the law," Mr. O'Brien said, adding that he fully supports the chief's actions.

"If it was a dollar, it was a dollar too much," the city manager said.

Accounting software has been periodically updated since Chief Gemme assumed the top job in October 2004. Recently, the police computer system ran a parallel test with the city's payroll for court overtime pay in the first half of the year, and payments to about a half-dozen individuals were red-flagged.

The audit, he said, found that a half-dozen or so of the department top 10 recipients of court overtime pay were assigned to the day shift. In some instances, he noted, those day-shift officers made as much as five times more than officers who work night hours and were seemingly in line to earn more overtime, the chief said.

"We're talking a handful of people," he said, who combined earn about $100,000 annually in regular overtime, and were found to be taking in nearly the same amount in court overtime. The audit reviewed payments to some 450 officers who qualified to put in for court overtime.

"The vast majority of police officers are following the rules," Chief Gemme said.

Problems with the small number of officers suspected of abusing the system, he said, included "manipulating the schedule to maximize court overtime at a considerable cost to the taxpayers" and using vacation time indiscriminately to earn overtime, a violation of city ordinances. Also at issue was whether officers did appear in court on dates for which they were paid overtime.

"In some cases we're questioning whether there was actual attendance in court," the chief said.

Chief Gemme said day-shift officers who appear in court are there as part of their regular daily duties and cannot claim court overtime pay.

He said the department has checks in place to scrutinize regular overtime pay. There has, however, been little oversight of court overtime.

Officers who attend court receive a slip, which is signed or stamped by a court liaison officer. That paper then is brought back to the officer's division or unit and manually entered into the computer system.

"We've had cases where slips have been submitted without the proper stamp or signature and those have been entered into the system," Chief Gemme said. "We've now tightened our oversight of the court attendance procedures."

"Right now we're trying to pull together all of the records and information to get a better understanding of the discrepancies," the chief said.

Mr. O'Brien pointed out the court overtime abuse was discovered because the chief requested the computer technology to do the financial checks.

"Checks and balances he requested and instituted brought these incidents to our attention," he said. "These are custom computer programs tailored to the complex nature of personnel assignments, overtime allocations and court time."

Chief Gemme said yesterday he takes full responsibility for "the lack of oversight" in the court overtime procedures.

"This abuse occurred under my watch and I take full responsibility for the lack of oversight and scrutiny of court overtime," he said.

http://www.telegram.com/article/20080723/NEWS/807230690/1116
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Monday, August 11, 2008

Police probe leads to new pay rules

Department to check info weekly

By Scott J. Croteau TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
[email protected]

WORCESTER- In the wake of an internal investigation of officers who allegedly fraudulently claimed court overtime pay, the Police Department has put in place several policies and procedures aimed at preventing the abuse.

Traditionally, any officer attending court would sign in and out with the Police Department's court liaison office - located in the courthouse - and receive a signed slip showing the officer was at court. The officer would take the slip back to the division lieutenant and the lieutenant would enter the slip in the administrative system so payment could be made.

An internal audit of the Police Department's payroll recently found that seven officers allegedly abused the system to the tune of $80,000 to $100,000 between them for the first six months of 2008.

"We felt that the system was running smoothly. We didn't anticipate any problems until this recent development," Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said in an interview last week. "As a result, we had to tighten up all of the procedures around court overtime."

All court overtime slips submitted to division lieutenants are now turned into the chief's office along with the roster of officers attending court. The court liaison office faxes over daily a copy of the sign-in sheet as well. Lieutenants attending court give their slips to captains and in turn those slips are sent to the chief's office.

The information will be reviewed on a weekly basis and compared to work schedules and the officer's work status - vacation, out on injury, etc. Potential abuse - if discovered - would be red-flagged immediately.

"It is going to be a little labor-intensive and it is going to require additional work within the administrative office - my office - but I think it's necessary that we put in place a system with checks and balances to prevent any further abuse with court overtime," Chief Gemme said.

An internal audit done before the new policies led to seven officers being under investigation in the alleged double-dipping probe. Lt. Timothy O'Connor, Sgts. Michael J. Coakley, Faith A. Roche and Eric A. Boss along with Officers James M. O'Rourke, Paul W. Noone and Darnell McGee were all transferred out of their units while under investigation.

Sgt. Coakley has since resigned and Lt. O'Connor is on paid administrative leave. The investigation continues.

Chief Gemme has routinely declined to comment on how many officers are involved or to identify them by name, citing a need to protect the integrity of the investigation and noting that the cases of abuse are in varying degrees.

The officers are accused of manipulating schedules, abusing vacation time and what's been termed other "serious abuse" of court overtime procedures. In some cases authorities are questioning whether some of the officers actually attended court on the days claims for payment were filed. Some of the court slips were put into the administrative system although they lacked the required court liaison signatures.

"What we found was that there were small pockets within the department of 450 that court slips were not signed by court liaison officers," Chief Gemme said.

Before the department put the new policies and procedures in place; lieutenants could input their own court slips into the administrative system. Now all lieutenants' court slips - although most lieutenants do not attend court, according to the chief - must be input by their division captain.

"It had to be changed because of certain issues that we had identified through the audit," the chief said.

"Clearly, right from the gate, I absolutely take responsibility for lack of oversight with the court overtime. Should we have had better procedures? Absolutely. Did we think that the system was operating effectively? Yes, we did," Chief Gemme said.

"Was the responsibility for court overtime in the right rank? I believe it's in the right rank. A police lieutenant holds a very high rank in this organization."

The chief said lieutenants will still be responsible for inputting court slips for officers and sergeants. He believes a lieutenant holds a high enough rank where they have the skills and trust to handle that responsibility.

A future plan for the department is to have the court liaison office equipped with a computer software system that allows the staff from the courthouse office to directly enter court overtime information into the Police Department's administrative computer system. That would eliminate the need for slips.

The Police Department will work with the city's Technical Services Department to create that system, but the timetable for when it will occur has not been set.

Chief Gemme said court overtime pay will also become part of his Monday meetings with command staff.

The chief started having Monday meetings about grant and regular overtime when he became chief. The meetings started in early 2005, a few months after Chief Gemme took over the top position in the department.

Before the recent events, court overtime pay was not part of the regular Monday meeting discussions. Regular overtime and grant-overtime spending was reviewed so the department could see where the money was being spent and if funds could be shifted to handle spikes in criminal activity or other issues. Those reviews helped find money to fund the Anti-Crime Team and Summer Impact Unit.

"With court overtime there was very little oversight in the sense from the administrative level," Chief Gemme said. "There was a system that was in place that obviously in hindsight there were some issues, but we thought it was running fairly effectively."

http://www.telegram.com/article/20080811/NEWS/808110543/1116

 
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