The issues were right there, spilled across the few dozen pages of a 2015 report.
Commissioned by the city shortly after Mayor Martin J. Walsh took office, the audit of the inner workings of the Boston Police Department revealed a number of concerns involving the use and allocation of overtime. Among them: that there appeared to be few mechanisms in place to monitor overtime spending, that the paid detail process was a “drain on city resources,” and that officers were routinely being paid for time they didn’t work.
“Currently, the department exercises little control over the process of assigning overtime,” according to the report, which cost the city $105,000 and provided a dozen recommendations on how to clean up waste and inefficiencies.
But despite the unflattering revelations — as well as a public vow by Boston Police Commissioner William Gross last year to crack down on overtime abuses — police leadership has made few changes to combat a problem that has long plagued the department.
There have been no significant changes to the department’s overtime policy in the five years since the audit. A police superintendent appointed last year to review overtime and detail issues has yet to open a single overtime-related investigation. Meanwhile, high-profile issues of alleged pay abuse have continued, with three department officers currently facing a federal grand jury investigation into overtime fraud, according to a 2019 Globe report.
What’s more, as national protests over recent police killings of unarmed Black people have turned a sharp eye toward issues including police spending, overtime pay at the police department has continued to balloon. In the five years since the city’s audit, police overtime spending has jumped by more than $15 million — from $61.6 million in 2015 to $77.7 million last year.
More than two dozen officers made over $300,000 in 2019, thanks to salaries bolstered by overtime pay; nearly 500 officers made more than $200,000.
“It is exceptional that there are as many people making over $200,000 a year with as much as 50 percent of that in overtime alone,” said Karen L. Amendola, chief behavioral scientist at the National Police Foundation, who has studied police behavior and department spending for 25 years.
“The average pay seems to be much higher than the national average, even in big cities.”
Through a spokesperson, Gross declined to be interviewed for this story. A city spokeswoman said in a statement that the Walsh administration has “taken steps” in recent years to curb overtime, eliminate vacant positions, and institute cost savings in large city departments, including police and fire.
Boston Police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, the department’s spokesman, defended the department’s use of overtime in an interview this week, saying overtime has been necessary to meet the demands of policing a growing city with an increasing number of large events. He also pointed to open internal affairs investigations of alleged overtime violations as evidence the department is doing its part to suss out abuses.
“If we have a number of [open] cases,” he said, “it’s obvious we’re looking at them, we’re finding them, and we’re addressing them.”
Boyle also cited the promotion last year of Marcus Eddings to superintendent. In his new role, Boyle said, Eddings is charged with overseeing overtime and paid detail earnings — in a position separate from the internal affairs division. Off-duty details are instances in which officers carry out assignments for utility, construction, or other private companies; these shifts are paid for by the companies.
But in more than 14 months on the job, Eddings has opened no investigations into overtime irregularities, Boyle acknowledged, though he has investigated what Boyle termed “several” detail-related cases.
Those who have been investigated by the department’s internal affairs division, meanwhile, have routinely been placed on paid administrative leave, allowing them to continue collecting a paycheck during the course of investigations that can stretch, in some cases, for years.
For instance, after being suspended last February and charged with three violations of Rule 102, the general police ethics rule that includes documenting hours of overtime worked, Officer Louis A. Vasquez has been on paid leave for the past 16 months, according to Boyle.
Officer Diana I. Lopez and Sergeant Robert J. Twitchell both retired recently while facing open departmental charges of overtime-related abuses, the department said.
There is one high-ranking officer, meanwhile, whose earnings have earned particular scrutiny.
In 2007, then-Lieutenant Haseeb Hosein was one of four officers the department announced would be fired as a result of hundreds of abuses of the department’s detail system. In all, the department said at the time, an internal investigation had turned up 203 violations on the part of Hosein, including 80 counts of inaccurate reporting on a detail card, 24 counts of accepting a detail scheduled during his regular patrol shifts, 16 counts of receiving details outside the system, and one count of breaking the law and conduct unbecoming an officer. (In the end, Hosein reached a settlement with the department, avoiding termination in exchange for serving a four-month suspension.)
Despite the episode, Hosein was promoted in 2014 to captain, becoming the first Muslim in the department’s history to hold that position. Asked at the time about Hosein’s past transgressions, a police spokesman told the Globe: “We’re not a department that holds something over somebody’s head.”
Last May, however, Hosein was suddenly placed on paid administrative leave in the midst of three internal affairs investigations into his conduct. Police officials declined to say at the time why Hosein was being suspended. But two of those cases are overtime-related, Boyle said this week. Boyle declined to give details as to what, exactly, the allegations entailed.
Hosein, who declined to speak with the Globe, has regularly ranked among the department’s highest-paid officers, aided by a significant amount of overtime. He was among the city’s highest-paid employees in both 2017 and 2018, and in a single day in November 2018, he collected nearly $1,700 in overtime while working at a voting precinct on an Election Day, according to department records.
Even after his suspension last May, which left him ineligible to receive overtime or detail pay for the remainder of the year, Hosein collected $279,760 for the year — which included $55,493 in overtime and detail pay made prior to his suspension.
The 2015 city audit cited a number of reasons for the overtime totals within the department, from times when an officer is required by contract to be paid four hours of overtime for a task that might take a fraction of that, to overtime allotments based on the previous year’s totals, rather than need.
Among the chief findings was that many of the jobs being done by sworn personnel could in fact be done by civilian workers, thus freeing up more officers for police functions and lessening the need for overtime spending.
In recent years, however, the city has gone the opposite direction, adding officers — the number of sworn personnel has risen by 4 percent during Walsh’s tenure as mayor — while the number of civilian workers has decreased.
Some of the issues laid out — such as the lack of a centralized method for tracking overtime pay — aren’t limited to Boston.
“These challenges have been universal in policing,” said Kathleen O’Toole, a former Boston police commissioner. “It’s really essential to have good technology systems, and an effective auditing mechanism.”
Still, many of the recommended changes from the city’s 2015 audit would likely be at the discretion of the department’s leadership, said Brenda J. Bond-Fortier, a professor at Suffolk University who specializes in organizational change in policing.
“A lot of these recommendations are not outside the realm of what police agencies are doing in other places,” said Bond-Fortier. “These are not necessarily revolutionary changes in the field of policing.”
A spokeswoman for Walsh said in a statement Wednesday that the 2015 police audit was part of a series of comprehensive audits across the city's largest departments that "resulted in millions of dollars of savings in fiscal year 2017, and further savings in fiscal year 2018 at the Boston Police and Boston Fire Departments."
She also pointed to Walsh’s recent announcement that roughly $12 million — or 20 percent — of the police overtime budget would be reallocated to social service programming.
Within the department, significant changes to the current overtime system would undoubtedly be met with pushback, said Tom Nolan, a former BPD lieutenant who now teaches at Emmanuel College. From the unions, he said, but also the rank-and-file officers who have come to view overtime pay as the norm.
Still, he said, reforms aimed at significantly altering the current overtime system aren’t impossible.
“You have to have a vision of what you want the department to look like,” Nolan said, “and the will to follow through on it.”
Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.