Tensions rise over police overtime, off-duty deployment

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A pair of memos issued to Detroit police officers this month highlight growing tension about overtime costs and the city’s Secondary Employment program, which provides off-duty officers to work for businesses.

A directive sent Monday to officers in southwest Detroit’s 4th Precinct instructed shift commanders to clamp down on overtime — even if it meant deploying two cars under the minimum staffing levels. The memo advised the policy was in effect throughout the department until July 1.

Police Chief James Craig said Tuesday the memo was the result of a commander misunderstanding his orders. Craig declined to identify the supervisor who sent the memo, which stated: “Effective immediately, all operations conducted on overtime shall cease.

“Patrol is allowed to run two cars under the normal minimum deployment plan (if) not able to make the numbers without overtime,” the memo said, although Craig insisted the memo was incorrect.

“That’s not what I ordered,” he said. “We just had a meeting about managing overtime, and I directed my staff to do what any organization would do: Be fiscally responsible when it comes to overtime.”

Craig said he would never allow shifts to deploy fewer cars than the minimums. “I had my deputy chief draft a deployment strategy to make sure we have enough units in the field to so we maintain the ability to quickly respond to calls for service; and making sure we have enough units deployed for officer safety.

“That memo was the result of a misunderstanding,” Craig said.

Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association union, said he believes Craig about the misunderstanding, but added the decision to tighten officer overtime is likely tied to an “Action Alert” he sent to union members Jan. 5. In the alert, he directed them to stop moonlighting in the city’s Secondary Employment program, because officers are not legally represented if they’re accused of a crime.

“Recently, a DPOA member was crimnially charged for actions that occurred while working in a secondary capacity,” Diaz wrote.

He was referring to Officer Lonnie Wade, who is scheduled to stand trial on assault charges in connection with a videotaped incident that showed Wade hitting a customer in the face with his nightstick while moonlighting at a Detroit Meijer store.

“The secondary employer and the City of Detroit has refused to provide criminal representation for him,” Diaz wrote in the memo. “Therefore, the DPOA hereby directs all ... members to immediately cease participating in secondary employment until the City of Detroit/participating businesses provide protection for all participants in this program.”

Diaz said Tuesday there’s “a buzz around the campfire” that the city is clamping down on overtime to offset revenue lost from officers boycotting secondary employment. The city gets paid for each hour an officer works in the program.

“I think the timing is a bit too coincidental,” Diaz said.

Lt. Franklyn Hayes, who runs the secondary program, said the percentage of positions filled actually went up after Diaz’s memo.

“We were at an 84.5 percent fill rate two weeks prior to that letter, and after the letter we went to 88 percent,” he said. “The letter has had no impact on secondary employment.”

Hayes said the city gets $2 for every hour an officer works in the program. Officers are paid in four tiers: Standard at $28.59 an hour; a weekend rate of $29.19; a premium $40.77 rate; and an hourly holiday rate of $45.45.

Hayes said there are about 400 secondary deployments weekly, so if those officers each worked eight-hour shifts, the city would stand to lose about $6,400 weekly if no one worked the secondary shifts.

Craig said secondary employment is not why he wants to cut down on overtime. He added that the city doesn’t automatically pay for legal representation for officers accused of committing crimes.

“If you’re working on duty in a scout car and you engage in alleged criminal activity, there’s a high probablity you won’t be indemnified anyway,” Craig said. “If an officer is performing his job and is accused of wrongdoing, they make a request through the chain to see if they’ll get representation from the city law department.

“Most of the time we agree to that representation; the exception is if there’s an allegation of blatant criminal behavior,” Craig said.

Diaz said he’s amended the Jan. 5 Action Alert, and is now telling his members to hold off boycotting the secondary employment program until next month, after he meets with Craig to discuss the issue.

Diaz said he and Craig have agreed to meet Feb. 7.

“The DPOA board of directors voted unanimously last week to insist all members will not work secondary employment at a certain point in February,” Diaz said. “We’re waiting until after the meeting with Chief Craig to see what happens.

“Here’s the problem: Secondary is not directly linked to DPD,” Diaz said. “If you get sued, the companies the officers work for have to carry a $3 million policy for civil litigation, but as far as criminal allegations, the officer’s on his own.

“DPD does not cover criminal liabilty, but they have a responsibility to the officers wearing the uniform on these jobs to at least negotiate some protection, should allegations of criminality arise,” Diaz said.

Craig said he wants to work out the issues surrouding the secondary employment program with the DPOA and Lieutenants and Sergeants Association Union. LSA President Mark Young did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

“I’m meeting with both unions to try to hash this out,” Craig said. “In the secondary employment agreement, there’s a stipulation that if an officer is working secondary employment, that officer will not be represented by the union, because they’re working for another employer.

“The union opines that representation should be made available by the concerned client and not the union,” Craig said. “I look forward to meeting with the unions so we can work all this out.”

Diaz added: “Craig has always been fair, so I’m confident our meeting will bear positive fruit.”

Detroit police overtime has skyrocketed in recent years. The Detroit News reported last year that Detroit officers from the rank of lieutenant down worked 69 percent more overtime during fiscal year 2015-16 than three years earlier. That cost taxpayers $28.34 million in 2015-16, up from $16.9 million in 2012-13.

Police and city officials did not immediately provide overtime figures for 2017 Tuesday.

Detroit police launched an internal investigation in 2014 into overtime fraud, which Craig said resulted in criminal charges and administrative discipline. He insisted there are no allegations of fraud that led to his recent call to manage overtime costs.

“It’s just a matter of financial responsibility,” he said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN