The Honolulu Police Department’s ineffective management of overtime has resulted in nearly $30,000 in unsubstantiated payments and up to $6 million in increased city pension costs over the last five years, according to a city audit released on Saturday. 

The top 10 earners raked in $4 million in overtime pay over five years, the auditor found. The highest earner made an average of about $123,000 in overtime per year in that time period – on top of the officer’s normal salary. 

The overtime excesses are a financial strain on the city and also raise concerns about officer fatigue, the auditor said. One officer was working 17 hours per day for almost two weeks straight in 2019. 

A Honolulu Police Department flag flies fronting the main station.
HPD overtime spending doubled between fiscal year 2016 and 2019, city data shows. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“HPD should improve current overtime policies and recruitment efforts to protect the wellbeing of existing and future officers,” the report by City Auditor Arushi Kumar states. 

The Honolulu City Council requested the audit after Civil Beat obtained internal HPD records showing at least two dozen officers had doubled their income with overtime in 2020, part of a larger trend of department-wide overtime increases. 

The auditor found overtime usage in HPD’s patrol districts increased nearly 166% between fiscal years 2016 and 2020. Department majors and captains attributed the trend to the former police chief, Susan Ballard, who increased the minimum number of officers required per shift. 

Overtime increased at the same time vacancies went up due to lower academy graduation rates, increasing retirements and other separations, according to the auditor. The academy graduation rate alone dropped 25% from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2021.

“The exact reasons for these lower rates are speculative, and HPD does not document reasons for individual resignations,” the auditor wrote. “However, according to HPD, recent negative media stories and criticism of the department may reduce the attractiveness of this career.” 

HPD officers on bike monitor the rally and march to defend abortion held in Waikiki.
Officers who work excessive overtime face negative outcomes on the job, including increased risk of vehicle collisions, according to a study cited by the city auditor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

HPD also creates vacancies when it pulls some officers off the road and puts them on “special assignment” for prolonged periods of time, the auditor found. 

While HPD has policies and procedures for managing overtime, the auditor found they are inconsistently interpreted and applied. 

“Responses varied when asked if there are overtime limits,” the audit states. “One captain suggested there might be limits, but could not concretely speak to them.” 

Beyond the immediate costs to taxpayers, the overtime also jacks up the city’s payments to the Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System. HPD’s highest overtime earners cost the city an estimated $575,000 each in payments to the state pension fund, according to the audit. 

Another problem is that records are kept manually, the auditor found. Missing and inaccurate timecard data led HPD to pay out nearly $30,000 for unsubstantiated overtime. 

With more than 2,100 authorized officers, the auditor found the paper timecards are “voluminous and difficult to monitor.” The system increases the risk of error, abuse and fraud, the audit states. 

“Furthermore, the integrity of manual overtime timecards are at risk because they can be easily misinterpreted, altered, falsified, or lost,” the audit found. 

Despite the overtime to address officer shortages, staffing minimums still were not met, according to the audit. And the workload of the officers working the most hours is troubling, the auditor found. 

The report cites a study published by the National Institute of Justice Journal that found fatigued officers face negative outcomes. 

They use more sick leave, use force inappropriately more often, become involved in more car accidents, have more difficulty dealing with community members and other law enforcement agencies, experience more accidental injuries and have a higher likelihood of dying in the line of duty, according to the study. 

All of HPD’s 11 highest overtime earners received at least one administrative complaint, according to the audit. One officer received 13 complaints, six of which were sustained. And three of the top earners were found to have caused car crashes. 

The auditor made several recommendations, including that HPD standardize its overtime policies, consider alternatives to its manual timekeeping system, reevaluate the minimum staffing percentages, ensure officer wellness is considered in its policymaking, embrace technology to maintain accountability for overtime allocation and develop methods for increasing police recruitment and academy graduation. 

HPD’s chief and the city managing director generally agreed with the auditor’s findings and recommendations, and indicated that HPD has already begun to implement some of them, according to a letter from Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic. 

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