Pressure on HPD to fill shifts led to lax overtime practices, former deputy chief says

Pressure on HPD to fill shifts led to lax overtime practices
Published: May. 29, 2022 at 9:56 PM HST|Updated: May. 30, 2022 at 10:09 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former deputy chief of the Honolulu Police Department says red flags were ignored about lax overtime policies, and a directive to fill empty shifts meant breaking the rules.

“There were prior warnings that this was going to happen, that guys would take advantage, that there would be a breakdown so we had to have a closer oversight,” said John McCarthy, a retired HPD veteran of 45 years and former Chief Susan Ballard’s second in command.

He says he wasn’t surprised by the findings in a City Auditor’s report that revealed a system that lacked accountability and was rife for abuse.

“We had one officer that worked in a 72 hour period, between his on-duty shift and overtime, work 71 hours, it’s impossible. We had one officer work 24 hours consecutive, impossible,” he said.

The audit found HPD uses unlimited overtime to make up for staff shortages -- but at the expense of the well-being of officers.

“You’re concerned about public safety for one, because can these guys perform, a guy working 24 hours cannot possibly respond to emergency or critical events and be at his peak performance? No way,” McCarthy said.

At the time, McCarthy said Chief Ballard promised to increase staffing by 5% each year and commanders were pressured to deliver.

And when pandemic funding poured in, it opened the door to violations.

“Even if it was a guy going over his 24 hours, or whatever the limit was at that time, because it will change, flex between 20 and 24 at the time. Even if it meant going over that, they’d bring the same guy in over and over again, because nobody else wanted to work,” he said.

Officers reported overtime through paper timecards -- the audit found the manual system was difficult to monitor and increases the risk of error and fraud.

McCarthy wants to see more accountability and says an electronic system can help.

“Commanders sign off to verify this, but they’re not around to see if the person worked overtime or not. So that paper and it’s again, it’s a paper trail,” he said.

McCarthy believes the majority of officers were honest when reporting their overtime -- and only about 40 took advantage of the system.

He says it comes down to how HPD plans to make up for more than 300 unfilled positions.

“You either have officers out there, or you don’t. And I tell you, you want officers out there,” he said. “You either pay, or later on, you hurt. And now you got to pay twice as much.”

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