City audit reveals Berkeley police overspend on overtime

photo of police building
Kimberly Fong/Staff
While BPD receives more general funds than any other city department, it consistently overspends; much of the problem is due to excessive overtime, according to a city audit.

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A city auditor presentation revealed that while Berkeley’s population grew by only 7% from 1970 to 2020, Berkeley Police Department spending grew by 242% in the same time.

City Auditor Jenny Wong presented these findings to the Berkeley City Council at its regular meeting Tuesday. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Berkeley’s population rose from 116,000 to 124,000 in the last five decades. Berkeley’s police budget, however, increased from $21.9 million to $75 million.

Wong said while BPD receives more general funds than any other city department, it consistently overspends. Wong identified poorly tracked, excessive overtime as a main cause.

The audit also revealed a lack of transparency and formal contracts between BPD and outside entities. According to Wong’s presentation, BPD officers do security work at overtime rates for outside entities such as the Apple store on Fourth Street. BPD pays this overtime to the officer using taxpayer money expecting the outside entities to reimburse the department.

However, Wong said internal lacks of both documentation and formal contracts mean it is unclear if this reimbursement is ever paid in full.

“We very well could be losing money and we don’t know,” said City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani at the meeting. “When we’re talking about taxpayer money: That really concerns me.”

Councilmember Ben Bartlett added that contracting with outside entities “doesn’t sit well with residents” who often face long wait times if they call for officers to respond to a crime.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín shared these concerns. The council passed Arreguín’s motion to instruct city manager Dee Williams-Ridley to ensure BPD has clear contracts with outside entities in place by Sept. 29. Williams-Ridley said she will stipulate in the contracts that BPD officers’ first priority is to serve the city and its residents.

The audit also found that officers work excessive overtime, increasing health and safety risks. Wong said BPD does not manage overtime “through any kind of systematic technology,” citing a piece of paper posted on an office wall where officers sign up for hours.

Wong offered three main recommendations in addition to clarifying contracts with outside entities for BPD. First, fill vacancies deemed necessary; second, publicly document minimum staffing; third, evaluate and update overtime policies.

BPD Chief Jennifer Louis said a staffing software solution is “well underway” and the department is planning to post clear information about contracting with outside entities on its website.

“You will see real progress from us in the coming months,” Louis said at the meeting.

In addition to its BPD audit discussion, the council also approved $250,000 to help fund the Downtown Berkeley BART Station Modernization project and $60,000 for school supplies for Berkeley families.

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.