Frazier orders audit of overtime at homicide unit

May 13, 1994|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Sun Staff Writer

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has ordered an audit of the homicide unit's overtime vouchers after discovering that it often pays out 14 times as much in overtime salary in any given month as other police units.

Mr. Frazier called the audit by his inspection services office "a routine management survey" that was not prompted by any suspicion of wrongdoing.

It comes in the wake of criticism from some homicide detectives who say the new chief's plan to rotate them to patrol jobs could have disastrous consequences. Mr. Frazier says his rotation policy will open up positions for younger officers, racial minorities and women.

The police union questioned the timing of the audit, saying yesterday that any attempt to intimidate officers who speak out will be challenged.

"We're looking into it very closely," said Lt. Chuck Milland, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "If we determine that it is vindictive or punitive in nature, then we will take appropriate legal action against whoever is responsible.

"People should not have to fear retaliation for speaking their minds."

Mr. Frazier has charged that some detectives are playing on public fears to protect their jobs, which carry overtime pay that often boosts their salaries by as much as 50 percent in a year.

But he said yesterday that the overtime audit has nothing to do with the continuing controversy over his rotation policy.

"There's no connection between officers speaking out and this audit," Mr. Frazier said. "I invite their comments. But I also have an obligation to manage the department's budget in the most efficient way possible. And the homicide overtime budget sticks out."

Mr. Frazier said a cursory examination of weekly overtime reports reveals that the 47-member homicide unit often spends 14 to 16 times as much on overtime as any other unit in the department, adding as much as $25,000 to the annual salaries of some homicide detectives.

"There's no way you can look at those kind of numbers and not conclude that you might be better served by adding a few more full-time detectives," he said. "I admire the dedication of a guy who's willing to work 60 hours a week, but I guarantee you he's not going to be as effective as a well-rested detective working 40."

Col. Ron Daniel, who is conducting the audit, said he is also looking at whether the department needs to institute tighter controls with the state's attorney's office to cut down on the amount of time detectives spend waiting to testify in hearings.

The bulk of the overtime in the homicide unit is not spent on actual investigations, he said, but usually adds up as detectives sit in courthouse hallways waiting to present evidence in murder cases.

"You tell me as a taxpayer whether that's a good use of your money," he said. "The answer is that it's not. And it undercuts the effectiveness of the homicide unit as a whole. We have detectives working all night on cases, then spending the entire day sitting in court.

"I'm looking at overtime slips that show detectives working 24-hour days, then going back to work the next night. When do they sleep?"

Colonel Daniels cited a department policy against officers working part-time jobs more than 32 hours a week for fear that would undercut their performance as police officers.

"How can we tell them that they can't work more than 32 hours for somebody else, then let them work themselves into the ground for us?" he said. "It's obvious we're contradicting ourselves."

As for suggestions that the audit is designed to intimidate those who question his rotation plan, Mr. Frazier said his critics underestimate the thickness of his skin.

"I've only ever had one conversation with a detective on this subject, and he conducted himself respectfully and was a complete gentleman," the commissioner said. "I don't think he could say that I treated him any differently. Anyone else who wants to discuss it is free to come up to my office any time."

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