The Washington Post

Closed schools didn’t hinder Baltimore police overtime

Three officers earned more than the chief in year-long period

- BY LEE O. SANDERLIN AND LILLIAN REED

baltimore — Baltimore City School Police officers made nearly $1.7 million in overtime wages in a 12-month span ending Sept. 30, 2021, a time when school was mostly virtual and many buildings were closed, according to publicly available salary records.

Of the at least 89 hourly employees on the school police payroll, 36 officers each made at least $20,000 in overtime during that 12-month period, including 10 officers who apparently logged enough overtime to collect at least $40,000 above their base salaries. Those 36 officers, making up 40 percent of the department workforce, accounted for more than 75 percent of all overtime wages paid to school police over the year-long period.

It’s not clear how the school police department tracks overtime among its officers, and officials declined to make Police Chief Akil Hamm available for an interview. Three officers earned more than Hamm during the period, and one officer made about as much as he did — about $136,000 — when accounting for overtime.

School police Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, a representa­tive of the union for rank-and-file school police and president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, argued the officers earned their pay.

“In my profession, I’ve seen overtime fraud and this is not to the level of the Gun Trace Task Force, where those guys were showing up, making arrests, gambling in Vegas,” Boatwright said. “Our people were literally out there. We got pictures of our guys talking with the community with masks on, spraying our vehicles down, putting on full body suits at Lord Baltimore Hotel.”

The downtown hotel served as a quarantine center for those with covid-19 in 2020 and 2021.

“Everybody wants to see scandal here,” Boatwright said, “but I’m not seeing scandal.”

Others want more answers, especially since Baltimore City’s is the only school system in the state with its own sworn police force.

Maryland State Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, said this level of overtime expenditur­e for a small department should prompt her colleagues in the General Assembly to reexamine the necessity of school police officers while passing more laws to prevent abuses of taxpayer dollars.

“I think there’s too little accountabi­lity for law enforcemen­t officers generally,” Carter said. “We passed legislatio­n to try to address some of that, but when it comes to the misuse of money and overtime, that’s something that still needs to be addressed.”

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office for Maryland’s public corruption unit are investigat­ing Baltimore City School Police Detective Lawrence Smith, who also is the Dunbar High School head football coach, with agents recently retrieving his timecards and salary records from public school headquarte­rs on North Avenue.

Smith has not been charged with a crime, and Smith’s attorney, Chaz Ball, declined to comment.

It’s not entirely clear what school police do to receive overtime wages. Baltimore City Schools spokeswoma­n Sherry Christian said police incur overtime for a variety of reasons without naming any.

Smith was the top overtime earner from October 2020 through September 2021, pulling down $94,484 in overtime. Smith made $27,000 more in overtime wages than the next-closest officer, who was paid just over $67,000 for extra work.

Smith is paid $32.38 per hour, and with overtime pay typically at time-and-a-half, Smith would have had to average more than 37 hours of overtime a week to make that much in extra wages.

Smith is not the only high earner from the past two years. In the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2020, school police recorded $2.5 million in overtime, including one sergeant who alone made $101,487 in overtime, according to data from Openpayrol­ls.com, which relies on public records for its informatio­n. Smith made the fourth-highest overtime amount in those 12 months, taking home $67,975.

The Sun requested payroll data for past years from the city school system, in addition to time cards for Smith, but those requests have not been fulfilled.

Boatwright said school police leadership has to approve all overtime in advance, and that supervisor­s are supposed to verify officers are actually working those shifts. After working, the supervisor and a commander both sign off on the work before the hours are sent to payroll, Boatwright said.

Hamm, the schools police chief, told the Baltimore Banner that “about 90%” of the overtime officers work is reimbursed through the city’s parks and recreation department and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

“They reimburse dollar for dollar. So the school system is not losing any money,” he said.

The 90 percent figure, as well as the idea that third parties bear nearly the entirety of the cost, is inaccurate.

Christian, the school system spokeswoma­n, said at least 64 percent of school police overtime in fiscal year 2020-21 was reimbursab­le, and in fiscal year 20212022, at least 49 percent of overtime costs were recouped.

“We are continuing to review data from those fiscal years and will make informatio­n available once we have finalized our results,” Christian said.

Between, July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, the stadium authority did not give any money to Baltimore school police for security, according to informatio­n obtained in a public records request. While the Maryland Stadium Authority does occasional­ly hire school police officers for security at the Camden Yards Sports Complex, their scheduling is handled through the Baltimore Police Department and is done on a volunteer basis.

Officers who work security at Camden Yards events are paid their overtime rate, and school police officials send invoices to the stadium authority after each event to ensure the officers’ wages are covered, according to a stadium authority spokespers­on.

The Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks typically hires school police for security at pools, youth sporting events and the Shake and Bake Family Fun Center. But it’s not clear how much they paid in fiscal 2021 for school police services. Several requests for comment and informatio­n from the agency went unanswered.

In addition to working at the city’s makeshift coronaviru­s isolation hospital at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, school police also were used to secure drive-up testing sites at Druid Hill Park, Pimlico and Lake Clifton High School after hours in the year ending Sept. 30, 2021, Boatwright said. They also assisted with meal distributi­on at recreation centers and schools.

 ?? Michael Robinson Chavez/the Washington Post ?? Highlandto­wn Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore sits closed in February 2021. Officers with Baltimore City School Police made nearly $1.7 million in overtime wages in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2021, a time when schooling was mostly held online.
Michael Robinson Chavez/the Washington Post Highlandto­wn Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore sits closed in February 2021. Officers with Baltimore City School Police made nearly $1.7 million in overtime wages in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2021, a time when schooling was mostly held online.

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