Friday, November 5, 2004

'Criminal conduct' alleged in police OT



By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

A 10-month investigation into the Cincinnati Police Department's management of overtime has uncovered "improprieties and criminal conduct" by at least one officer, a city auditor said Thursday.

Mark Ashworth, the city's internal audit manager, said he turned over evidence to Cincinnati police about two months ago.

He said the matter was referred to police internal affairs and that the name of at least one police officer had been forwarded to a grand jury for investigation.

Ashworth did not say who was being investigated or what the specific allegations were, but described them as "egregious."

"We are testing the controls (and procedures) that are in place that allowed the activities that we have seen to occur," Ashworth said.

His comments came during a meeting of the city's Internal Audit Committee, which had requested reviews of overtime management in the police and fire departments in January.

The audit request came about the time Councilman Christopher Smitherman was raising questions about inconsistencies with regard to overtime in the Police Department.

Ashworth said police have challenged some of his findings and told him that he needs a better understanding of how the department manages overtime and assigns personnel.

"Police believe I'm off target and in the wrong area," he said. "I believe I'm in the right area."

Lt. Col. Richard Janke declined to respond to any of Ashworth's comments, saying only that the department was awaiting results of the audit.

Keith Fangman, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the police union has a policy against providing legal representation to officers under criminal investigation.

"Whoever that officer is, they will be required to hire and pay for their own attorney," Fangman said. "In any organization you may have isolated incidents and they should be dealt with accordingly."

"If there are problems, they need to be brought to light and addressed," said Councilman Pat DeWine, who chairs the Internal Audit Committee.

Smitherman said he was "alarmed" by the auditor's findings.

"I have been talking about this since January and it is clear that I was right," Smitherman said.

Overtime costs have been a topic of conversation at City Hall in recent months, particularly in as city leaders have scrambled to fill a projected $6 million budget shortfall this year.

The management of overtime could be an issue in contract negotiations between the city and police union, which are under way. Fangman thinks it won't be.

"I don't expect it to be an issue because some at City Hall understand that it's cheaper to pay cops overtime to handle the service and 911 calls, as opposed to hiring 200 more cops," Fangman said. "It should be obvious to anyone that without the use of police overtime to handle the increased calls for service, this city would spiral into anarchy and chaos."

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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