City audit on Berkeley police examines reliance on overtime, work with outside entities

photo of Berkeley Police car
Andrew Huang/Staff
A city audit's recommendations include establishing limits on officer overtime and updating both outdated overtime policies and guidance when working with outside entities.

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A city audit published Thursday outlined Berkeley Police Department’s use of overtime, increased work with outside entities and its impacts on the department’s budget.

BPD exceeded its general fund budget four of the past five years, with overtime being the main cause of overspending, according to the audit. In fiscal year 2020, the audit found BPD relied on overtime to reach appropriate staffing levels and has not followed its overtime limits. While some amount of overtime is necessary and appropriate, BPD has become dependent on it, city auditor Jenny Wong said.

Additionally, the department does not have a process to regularly assess its necessary minimum staffing level. While the department’s work for outside entities more than tripled in fiscal year 2020, it still lacks procedures and contracts for this work, according to the audit.

“After we dug in, we decided to focus on overtime because it was an area that folks in the community had a lot of questions about,” Wong said.

The audit proposed 12 recommendations paired with implementation plans. These include regularly assessing minimum staffing needs, a software solution that will merge overtime management and scheduling and updating overtime policy to reflect the lack of limitation on consecutive days worked, as well as determining an appropriate limit on overtime hours.

The audit also recommends that the department update its policies to include guidance on work with outside entities and collaborate with the city attorney to draw up contracts to ensure proper reimbursements.

Most of the recommendations are planned to be completed within the next year or two, according to the audit.

Wong added the audit’s recommendation for staffing software will help supervisors monitor how many overtime hours each officer has completed and will issue a warning as they approach the overtime limit.

In fiscal year 2020, 21% of sworn officers exceeded their overtime limit at least once, according to the audit.

“Excessive overtime can lead to fatigue-impaired officers, increasing risks to officers, the City, and the public,” the audit states. “Without adequate enforcement of policies and tools to manage overtime, BPD cannot fully mitigate risks associated with officer fatigue.”

Officers are currently approved for overtime on a first come, first serve basis using papers posted to a bulletin board, Wong said.

Another important action was for BPD to establish its minimum staffing levels on a more regular basis, Wong noted.

“Our recommendation was to make sure that they have put in place something that’s more dynamic, to adjust to the evolving needs of the community and the department,” Wong said.

When not regularly assessed, an inaccurate minimum staffing level could account for “unnecessary” overtime, according to the audit. BPD’s current minimum staffing levels are based on a 2014 study, which Wong noted was probably out of date.

Katherine Lee, interim director of the Police Accountability Board, added minimum staffing levels might change based on the plans of the reimagining public safety task force, since officers’ tasks may change.

More information will also be publicly available in the future, including the patrol unit’s minimum staffing levels. An application to request BPD’s services will also be accessible.

BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White added the department worked with Wong and the auditing team and will continue to implement proposed plans.

“Overall, I felt that the report was valuable and necessary,” Lee said. “Especially at a time when we are looking at reimagining how public safety services are being provided.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @MelaSeyoum.