Report: Lax controls in SPD Training Unit go back years

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on June 2, 2014 at 11:18 PM

Two investigations are underway to determine why the Seattle Police Department’s Education and Training Section went so far over budget in 2013. Now KING 5 has obtained an internal report that reveals turmoil in the troubled unit going back years, including allegations of overtime abuses.

Training is at the heart of police reforms Seattle agreed to make when the city signed a settlement agreement with the department of Justice two years ago.  But, last year hundreds of officers never got their annual refresher called “Street SkillsTraining”--crucial training to update them on the latest tactics and policies.  Yet, the training section spent a record $2.8 million on overtime. 

That shocking number prompted Interim Chief Harry Bailey to take action shortly after being appointed by Mayor Ed Murray in January of this year.  Bailey directed Assistant Chief Nick Metz to oversee a full blown assessment of how the training section was operating.

The report, titled “Assessment of the Seattle Police Department Education and Training Section,” and dated Spring 2014, was obtained by KING 5 through a public disclosure request after the police department repeatedly refused to provide it.

The report paints a picture of lax oversight, poor record keeping and alleged scheduling abuses going back years, including allegations supervisors and officer instructors had switched their days off to get paid time and a half for training that could have been done during regular work shifts.
 
Mayor Murray said he’d been briefed on the report and found the lack of controls and allegations of overtime abuses concerning. 

“It’s under investigation and we will be holding people accountable,” he said.

The assessment shows overtime for training spiraling up over the past five years, from $1.16 million in 2007, to $1.96 million in 2010, to $2.8 million in 2013 (with compensation time factored in).   Sources tell KING 5, the budget for training overtime would have topped $3 million for 32103 had then Interim Chief Jim Pugel not ordered the training stopped in October.

But there were red flags even before Bailey requested the assessment this past January. 
 
A year ago, in May 2013, a critical assessment was completed by Captain Mike Edwards, who’d been running the training section since for a year.  Edwards called for sweeping changes including restructuring to reduce overtime, internal controls to prevent abuse and a 20% reduction in overtime.

None of that happened. Instead, overtime soared.  Asked for an explanation, Edwards said he couldn’t comment without the permission of his superiors in the Seattle Police Department, which they declined to grant.   

Edwards said he requested a transfer and in December he was replaced by Captain Sean O’Donnell, who told KING 5 that he's been given a firm mandate.

“We've received some pretty clear direction from our senior command that we need to keep a close eye on what's going on with the overtime, expenditures and costs as it relates to training.  We've implemented a number of different procedures so that we can drill down and identify what the overtime is, who's doing it, whether it's our staff or whether it's staff from outside,” O’Donnell said. 

With the Department of Justice demanding officers get more training, the police department will be have to be creative about budgeting, because the mayor said the days of SPD writing a blank check are over.

“I suspect some (training) would be covered by overtime, but the overtime system can not be abused.  And it appears--I need to wait for the investigations--something went very wrong in the Seattle Police Department in 2013.

The Seattle Police Department declined to comment citing the pending investigation into alleged overtime abuses.  The Seattle City Auditor also declined because an audit of the training unit is still in progress.

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