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September 7, 2005

 

A three-pronged investigation into the system for providing the services of off-duty county police officers to private organizations and, in particular, into how they were paid for performing those services is a month or so away from producing its initial results.

Auditor Robert Wasserbach told County Council's public safety committee that, with the assistance of an outside auditing firm, he expects to have finished a review of the off-ledger 'contractual services' fund and to begin preparing a draft report by the end of September.

Guy Sapp, director of public safety, said that a police internal affairs investigation will likely complete interviewing  officers directly involved with administering the fund within about the same timeframe. The interviews are being conducted "in full compliance" with the officers' protected rights, he added.

Sapp and county attorney Gregg Wilson were less forthcoming about the status of what they described as "looking into any issue related to the chief of police." The chief, David McAllister, has been on paid administrative leave since Jul. 25 when County Executive Christopher Coons announced in a press statement that an unspecified something had been found awry.

Referring to the overall situation, Sapp said, "We have determined what occurred. What we're trying to find out is why it occurred."

Several times during the course of a long discussion at the committee meeting on Sept. 6 it was emphasized that there have been no allegations of illegality nor has anyone been accused of violating any law.

In presenting a summary of his work on the audit to the committee, Wasserbach said that, because it is incomplete, he could not "give any conclusions."

But he went on to lift the curtain slightly to offer a peek at the course of the audit by enumerating several questions he said his report will answer. Among the apparently significant ones:

Were officers paid twice for the same job?

Did officers receive and did the department file the required Internal Revenue Service form reporting off-duty income?

Did any officers exceed the 20-hour-a-week limit on the amount of off-duty police work that regulations allow them to perform?

Were organizations which contracted for the services all billed at the same rate?

Was anything other than off-duty police work paid for from the 'contractual services' fund?

He said the report also would address "the reasonableness of the [fund's] current account balance.

Sapp also dropped a hint about the scope of the investigation when he said internal affairs investigators would interview "at most 10 or 12 people" other than the police chief.

Wasserbach said the audit covered 6,300 checks going back to Jan. 1, 2002. Between then and June 30, 2005, he added, $2.4 million was deposited into the fund bank account and checks totaling $2.1 million were drawn upon it.

Officers were paid at the rate of $35 an hour while organizations were billed $40 an hour. As a result, "obviously more money was going into the account than was coming out," he said.

Sapp revealed that since July the rate has gone up to $53.50 an hour. As previously reported, officers are now receiving time-and-a-half overtime pay for their services. That is adjusted upward to $35 if their rank and length of service would entitled them to less, he said.

He said that there has been "no diminution in the number of off-duty jobs" which have been requested. Although "we are scrutinizing more carefully [the requesting organizations] than was done in the past, ... there has been no interruption in service to the public," he said.

In order for off-duty service to be self-supporting -- including covering not only the officers' pay but also the cost of their use of department equipment -- the rate is likely to be increased still further. However, he added, the intent is "to remain competitive" with state and other police agencies which provide such service.

If County Council, as expected, enacts pending legislation to establish a new arrangement when it next meets on Sept. 13, Sapp said he expects that system to be functioning by mid-October.

Councilwoman Patty Powell questioned what precipitated the investigation at this time since the fund has existed for 30 to 40 years and all police officers and many other county employees, as well as officials "going back several administrations," have been well aware of its existence. She is a retired county employee with many years of personnel-related service.

"Suddenly there is this big investigation," she said. "If there was anything [wrong] out there, it needed to be found out long ago."

After Wasserbach said that his draft report will be submitted to Sapp and other administration officials for review and comment before a final report is made, Powell moved that he also be required to submit the report in draft form to Council members. Her motion was approved without dissent.

Later in the proceedings, however, Council's attorney, Wendy Danner, pointed out that recently enacted state legislation provides for prior review of audit reports and requires that the draft be "a confidential document" until that is done and any subsequent revisions are made. The final version of the report, he said, is in the public domain.

2005. All rights reserved.

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