Update: This story has been reposted, modified slightly from its original form. Details here.
BCR may take the weekends off, but we expect our readers don't -- which means you probably already know that there were more follow-up stories on the Durham P.D. overtime scandal on Friday night and Saturday morning than you could shake a stick at.
The new twists in the case came after the City released a 2008 report that was only briefly mentioned in the recently-released audit of overtime excesses alleged on the part of the department's Secondary Employment Coordinator (SEC), Alesha Robinson-Taylor. Robinson-Taylor was fired after the report's belief, while deputy chief BJ Council -- whose role as the OT approver came under a great deal of scrutiny -- unceremoniously left the department with early retirement.
(Robinson-Taylor was placed into the SEC role in summer 2008, amidst this earlier investigation into secondary employment; according to the N&O, she served as the back-up SEC coordinator at the time of the 2008 report.)
The 2008 report raises a number of new questions, including concerns over favoritism and possible racial bias in off-duty work assignments that led to the restructuring and full-time posting for the SEC role in the first place.
But the biggest question that arises in this observer's mind after reviewing the 2008 SEC report -- which made its way into the public eye on a Friday after multiple media requests -- comes down to the leadership Chief Lopez did, or should have, provided on the matter when the issue of questionable overtime claims arose in the spring.
Lopez was aware of the excessive overtime reports dating back to April of this year, but didn't take any action on the matter until a complaint reached the city manager's office, leading to the audit and staff changes. Robinson-Taylor earned over $60k on top of a $52k salary in one year's time.
Our eyebrows went up a couple of weeks ago after Lopez told the N&O that these excessive-hour issues "were not anything we could have known on a regular basis unless we conducted a full investigation ourselves."
But there's a few problems with Lopez's assertion:
- The 2008 SEC report came after Lopez received a letter in January of that year alleging impropriety in the management of the program.
- That report singled out BJ Council (as part of the former SEC's chain of command), noting "that it appears that there is an extremely detailed level of involvement at the (then) Bureau Commander level of the chain of command. Due to a lack of policies and procedures, there seems to be a constant stream of small decisions that are being made by this top level, including how to staff certain job pools, who to assign as coordinators, and how to open and run individual jobs. The immediate supervisor in the chain appears much less involved."
- The 2008 report details concerning biases in who received attractive, well-paying off-duty positions, including how many different officers received them. The report focused on jobs created and assigned same-day by a system administrator, those positions that had the least opportunity to be requested and bid upon by multiple people. Out of 79 people who took these jobs, 18 people received five or more jobs -- with the then-SEC, her backup, and her chain of command.
- And a racial bias may have existed: In particular, 26 white and 53 African-American officers received job postings -- but black officers received an average of 5 postings per, versus 2 per for white officers in a sample group of about 313 fast-assigned jobs.
So Lopez knew -- after himself initiating an internal investigation into SEC practices -- that there were significant concerns over favoritism and appropriateness in off-duty work assignments.
Yet when overtime concerns were raised with the new SEC, concerns that should have raised red flags and action on the part of the DPD's chain of command, Chief Lopez sat on the issue for months, defending the assertion of then-deputy chief Council that Robinson-Taylor deserved the extra hours since she was now prohibited from accepting off-duty work (something recommended by the 2008 investigation.)
The Herald-Sun goes into more details about some of the challenges and problems found in 2008, including the fact that the report's recommendation to have a civilian or more senior sworn staff member take over SEC duties (so as to have more experience in supervision), whereas Robinson-Taylor was a line officer.
But to our analysis at BCR, there's one additional, very big reason why Lopez's judgment seems very appropriate to receive further scrutiny in this matter.
The 2008 report released by the City, you see, lists 62 officers in its Appendix 5 who were "found in one or more of the possible favoritism categories" -- by appearing in ten or more job pools, having five or more open jobs assigned, or being listed as a coordinator on three or more open jobs.
Of those 62 employees, only five of them appeared in all three categories of possible perceived (if not necessarily actual) favoritism -- the officers who, the City report alleged, most benefited from the troubled overtime system Lopez had set to investigate in the first place.
Among those five: One "Alesha Taylor," according to the PDF released by the City and made available by WRAL on Friday.
Robinson-Taylor was the backup SEC at the time of the 2008 report, later assigned to the full-time SEC role. The 2008 report notes that the backup (Robinson-Taylor) had received "numerous compliments" from officers on her work and that she was working towards a fairer work distribution.
Yet, by name and by role, the report notes that she was among the employees receiving a substantial number of assignments relative to other officers granted off-duty work hours through the City program.
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Now, as the DPD report notes, many of the issues that surrounded the SEC program in 2008 dealt with perceptions of impropriety, not actual violations of policy; in fact, the report called for better and more comprehensive policies to avoid such perceptions.
Still, when one of the five found by the report to be most clouded by concerns of possible favoritism (and who was already the back-up SEC in a troubled program) herself gets appointed to the SEC role, that seems like it raises a whole new range of perception issues.
When that officer is still in the chain-of-command of Council, whose role had already been scrutinized and questioned in the previous report -- that, too, raises a whole new range of perception issues.
And when, in that context, questions of excessive overtime were raised in April about Robinson-Taylor... well, one would think that, with the benefit of the background information found in the 2008 report, a certain police chief might find it useful to, you know, look into the situation further.
If anything, far from quelling concerns over this whole incident, the 2008 report raises even more reasons to have concerns and worries over the state of the department's leadership.
The public and the media have just learned about 2008's allegations. But the fact is that Chief Lopez knew about them -- and the concerns raised in them about members of the department -- long before 2009's overtime problems began.
Ultimately, public impressions are importance in law enforcement, a governmental function where public trust and confidence must run high for the department to have the support and backing of the community.
In that context, even while the report asserts that Robinson-Taylor (in the unnamed "backup" role) was receiving compliments, the perception problems created by the high assignment of work duties to her then-position certainly seems like it ought to have led to more scrutiny on the chief's part when the overtime mess began back in the spring of this year.
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Tom Bonfield has played his cards close to the chest on the Lopez issue.
But given his hard-line approach to personnel management, it's impossible to believe that Lopez is on anything other than a short leash.
If there's a concern that extends beyond the financial hit taken by the City on the overtime, it's the fact that the entire episode calls into question the strength of the department's leadership, a leadership already under scrutiny after the lacrosse scandal.
The 2008 report -- and, more importantly, the DPD's actions in the 2009 overtime mess even in wake of the 2008 findings -- doesn't give a lot of new reasons to have more confidence in where that leadership stands today.
In urban neighborhoods, Operation Bulls Eye has been a success, though there's not signs of a clear direction in areas to which crime may have been displaced, a set of outside-the Bulls Eye districts that range from the McDougal Terrace public housing complex near Durham Tech to more prosperous neighborhoods like Northgate Park and Duke Park.
Crime rates are down, but the distribution of crime has changed. And even if that distribution has changed in a net socially positive way -- to the extent crime is displaced to neighborhoods with more social capital and money, it's more likely to be reported and squelched -- the resultant fracases over public safety would take every ounce of credibility from DPD leadership.
To say nothing of the well-publicized complaints over neighborhood speeding.
It's in that context that strong leadership is necessary... and it's in that context that the current overtime mess seems to this observer to leave the DPD vulnerable at a time when community support and trust is so greatly needed.