On Tuesday, the Berkeley city auditor presented a report to City Council intended to help the Berkeley Police Department reduce its injuries and workers’ compensation claims, which cost BPD $2.4 million in fiscal year 2013.
The report — initiated by the city auditor’s office as part of an annual risk assessment plan — recommended several ways BPD could more efficiently document injuries, including sharing information with the human resources department and redefining how injuries are classified in reports. The new practices would help city management and BPD identify trends and develop measures to prevent future injuries, according to the report.
“Lowering the cost of claims will involve leadership, resources and better data,” said City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, who commissioned the report. “Our audit clearly demonstrates the ways in which data collection and use of that data can be improved, and city management is committed to making those changes.”
A contractor recently hired by the city found BPD among police departments with the lowest number of both dollar losses and claims when compared with five other police departments with similar characteristics and operations.
The audit is part of an effort to reduce workers’ compensation costs throughout the city. According to a Sept. 30 report by the city manager, in fiscal year 2013, the city spent more than $6 million on workers’ compensation and filed 200 new claims. Berkeley reduced its costs by 18 percent for fiscal year 2014, saving $1.1 million and filing 23 fewer claims. The report attributes the difference to several factors, including “aggressive and sustained emphasis” on employee safety training.
“Resources will be needed to do the extra work required to improve systems and outreach to employees,” Hogan said in an email. “With steadily shrinking available resources for the police department and all city departments, it will be a challenge to make the time available to complete the work.”
Of the $2.4 million in BPD’s costs, approximately $1.9 million was paid to the city’s workers’ compensation fund, which acts as a type of insurance fund for current and past claims. The remaining $500,000 was spent on payroll costs for BPD employees on leave for injury.
While the audit was not aimed at reducing workers’ compensation fraud, Hogan said data gathered with the improved methods can help identify trends that could indicate fraudulent claims.
BPD currently classifies injuries in 14 different causal categories, including lack of skill or stress. Last year, the most frequent injuries sustained were during detention, arresting and booking procedures and from exposure to illness.
Some of the report’s recommendations, such as a citywide written guidance for reporting injuries, have been partially implemented, while all are expected by 2015.