City of Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb released Tuesday a performance audit of the secondary employment procedures utilized by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
The audit is just one part of a larger bureau-wide audit. Lamb said he wanted to release this portion early due the ongoing changes and public interest in secondary employment procedures.
The report takes a hard look at Cost Recovery Fees, or CRFs, which until recently, were not codified in city law.
There are three parts to the fee paid to the city by those who hire off-duty police officers: the premium pay, which is the officer’s actual overtime pay, the CRFs, and the vehicle fees if the secondary employer wants a police car present.
Until City Council passed an ordinance dividing the fees, all of the money was coming into the city in a lump sum, which created confusion.
“We’ve always been under the impression, based on the information provided to us by the finance department, that that was premium pay,” Lamb said. “Meaning, that was money that didn’t belong to the city. It was money that was being brought into the city and going right back out to a police officer.”
In reality, the CRF money should have gone back into the city’s general fund. Lamb said the city’s failure to properly track the different kinds of fees created an opportunity for corruption, one that former Police Chief Nate Harper potentially took advantage of. Federal authorities are currently reviewing police bureau financial records apparently to determine if any city funds were diverted for personal use.
“When checks went missing or were redirected to another account, they didn’t show up so readily because no money appeared to be missing,” Lamb said. “That’s one of the problems that this created.”
All the money that has come in since the codification of the CRFs by City Council in April is being held in a trust fund until the city decides how the money should be used.
Lamb said some were under the impression that the CRFs were being used to cover any worker’s compensation claims filed by off-duty officers.
“I’ve talked to a lot of employers who bring on secondary employment,” Lamb said. “They believe that they’re covered for a worker’s comp claim if it happens, because they pay this fee. That has not been codified, so that’s one of the things we need clarification on.”
The controller’s audit found that worker’s compensation claims are not divided based on whether they occurred while an officer was on or off duty and recommends that the bureau begin tracking that data.
The audit also recommends that secondary employers should be responsible for paying worker’s compensation claims to officers injured while in their employ.
The report also tackled the issue of schedulers, which is one of two ways that the city currently schedules off-duty officers.
According to the report, less than 40 percent of secondary employment details were scheduled by the Office of Special Events. That means most of the jobs were scheduled by specially designated schedulers, who can essentially give the jobs to whoever they want. This has led to accusations of favoritism among schedulers.
City Council recently passed a law moving secondary employment out of the Office of Special Events and turning it over to a private company, but it turns out that may not be as big of a change as originally thought.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss said in early October that he wishes to get rid of schedulers and run all scheduling through the private company, but Lamb seemed to think that might be premature.
He said that business owners have told him that going through schedulers is more reliable than going through the Special Events Office.
“I think that before we would push them to get rid of schedulers, we need them to demonstrate that the secondary employment office can show that same kind of reliability,” Lamb said.
The report also recommends that more officers be moved out of administrative positions and that those positions be filled by civilians, a task which acting Police Chief Regina McDonald has already begun working on.