Overtime Abuse in Public Safety:
A Problem Lying in Wait

by | October 12, 2022

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here! Let me start off this continuation piece on Family Nine of the 10 Families of Risk with some thoughts on one of the things I have learned about business over the decades. When a new business starts up, or when an existing business introduces a new product or service, the goal is to get people to buy this product or service.

I’ve learned there are “five stages” of product adoption:

1. Innovators
2. Early Adopters
3. Early Majority
4. Late Majority
5. Laggards

As you know, I am limited to the amount of words I can put into any given article, so if you want more information on this concept, go to your favorite search engine and type in “Five Stages of Adopters” for some thoughts on each of these stages.

I mention the stages of product adoption to you because I have had similar experiences when I put out a request to my group of friends and colleagues for information on a given topic. One of the nice things about being old and subscribing to the twin theories of “never say no” and “talk to everyone” is recognizing that, “While I do not know everything, I do know everybody.” Along the lines of “the five stages of product adoption,” I have come to realize there are multiple stages of responses to queries I make to my friends.

So why am I boring you with this? In my last article, I mentioned that I sent out a request for thoughts on “financial risks in law enforcement” to “scores” (that is a fancy word for 20—and if you don’t believe me, ask Abe) of my public safety friends and I instantly got many return responses. I used their responses, coupled with my experiences, to build a top 10 list (I shared the first two items off the list in the last article and I promise, I’ll get back to the list if you can pardon this latest digression).

What surprised me was that after I sent the article to Madame Editor who put her magical touch on it and made it look coherent (and trust me, what I write and how good it looks and reads after her work is truly amazing)—I continued to get responses to my initial request for information. My brain is too confused to give you any hard numbers, but I think I got more responses than the number of people I posed the question to—and no joke—I am still getting more input into this topic from “the late majority” and possibly some “laggards.” Apparently, I have struck a nerve with Family Nine (Financial Risks), particularly with respect to overtime abuse in public safety.

Again, this is not a scientific survey, but most of these late responses deal with overtime scams (and other financial issues; more on that later)—some of these are just terrible to read. Included in this list are troubling behaviors by public safety personnel) involving claiming hours for time not worked, claiming hours for claimed work from home when the given employee was out of state, claiming hours for “standing by” when in fact the given employee was doing secondary employment, bogus claims for visits to MDs for COVID testing and treatment, taking days off and not submitting for vacation time, asking a supervisor for a vacation day but never submitting a payroll slip so the hours are never deducted, working four hours and putting in request for more than four hours, and various other bad behaviors—including some conspiracies between multiple employees to defraud their given agency of funds.

Yes, I recognize that very few employees do these things, but in my head this number should be NONE.

Excuse me, but these are the things that cops arrest people for—theft of government funds—yet somehow officers and other public safety personnel end up violating the trust we put in them to be honest in everything they do.

Yes, I recognize that very few employees do these things, but in my head this number should be NONE. No one in public safety should be doing these things. My guess is a lack of supervision, coupled with people working from locations other than their regular office during COVID, produce a feeling of entitlement. “They cannot get rid of me—they are already shorthanded” and other warped ways of thinking lead up to these false claims of working overtime.

Here is a quick thought for you. A guy walks into a department store—let’s make it a Nordstrom (note there is no “s” at the end of the name)—and steals a necktie. He gets caught by an alert security specialist who calls the cops. Let’s make the price of the necktie less than the amount in your state that constitutes “grand theft,” so he’s charged with misdemeanor theft.

However, if the same guy walks into the same Nordstrom (note there is no “s” at the end of the name) with a Nordstrom (note there is no “s” at the end of the name) shopping bag and swipes the same necktie, you now have a more serious charge of commercial burglary in many jurisdictions because he entered the store with the intent to steal, evidenced by the empty Nordstrom (OK, I won’t tell you again about the spelling and/or pronunciation of the name) bag to make it look like he made the purchase of the necktie.

Along the same lines, some/many of the overtime scams I have witnessed over the years are clearly planned behaviors to steal money from the government. I no longer have an active law practice, but if these cops showed up needing representation for their behavior, I would tell them they are in big trouble and will lose their job and get prosecuted. When I was in active practice and informed a cop of this, the all-too-often response was, “I wish I had not done that.” Once again, too late. You cannot wish it away and there goes your career and your reputation and your future.

Chiefs: With all the above in mind, please make sure you have control measures in your public safety agency that are so stringent the measures will proactively deter anyone from thinking they can successfully pull off overtime abuse. Make sure your supervisory team (those approving the OT claims) know their role in this process. I know, I know, I know, we should not have to do this, but it appears to me that overtime scams are increasing in frequency. The exact reason I do not know—but this is an identifiable risk and thus a manageable risk.

Sorry, but my word count is well beyond the “fifty score limit,” so I will continue with Family Nine in my next writing. Until then, please work safely.

TimTimely Takeawayely Takeaway—I don’t think you can talk about integrity and public trust too often with your people. Without the public trust, we have nothing.

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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