L.A. County deputies earn massive overtime, report says

Hundreds of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies racked up massive amounts of overtime, according to a new audit that said some of the extra work violated county rules and may have hindered the deputies’ performance.

L.A. County Auditor-Controller Wendy L. Watanabe’s office found that 348 deputies between March 2007 and February 2008 each worked more than 900 hours of overtime -- the equivalent of an extra six months of full-time work.

More than 1,300 deputies worked at least 600 hours’ overtime in the year.

County supervisors Tuesday called for new rules to control the amount of overtime after auditors revealed that unbudgeted overtime cost the Sheriff’s Department an average of $82.5 million annually over the last five years.

County auditors said that the agency regularly violates its work schedule rules, that it lacks policies that limit cumulative overtime and that overtime is often not pre-approved by managers.

Fourteen of the top 20 overtime earners in the department repeatedly violated work schedule rules, auditors said, including pulling back-to-back double shifts and working for more than 12 consecutive days.

Sheriff’s Department timekeepers, who are supposed to note such violations, rarely flagged them, auditors said.

“Employees who work significant amounts of overtime may not be physically/mentally capable of performing their jobs,” Watanabe wrote in a report to supervisors.

Responding to the report, Sheriff’s Department officials said much of the overtime occurred from 2005 to 2007 as they struggled to fill positions that had been created as jails were reopened.

The department hired 1,200 deputies from July 2006 to 2008.

Officials said that in some cases, the long hours were a result of assignments on the department’s tactical weapons team, narcotics unit or homicide bureau, which typically respond to unplanned events.

Sheriff’s Department officials agreed, however, that tightened management of overtime was needed and said that the department is dramatically cutting spending this year.

Watanabe in her audit findings did not reveal the individual amounts some deputies earned. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office, however, said at least 10 deputies in 2008 more than doubled their salaries with overtime.

One deputy with basic pay of $105,561 collected an additional $130,214 in overtime, according to Yaroslavsky’s office.Overtime was not the department’s only problem, the report found.

A small sampling of employees on sick leave found that nearly a third were overpaid, and a review of 15 industrial accident cases found that overpayments were made in nine cases because of department clerical errors. The audit also found that a quarter of the 60 bonuses the department paid lacked required paperwork.

Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Gloria Molina, who indicated that they were dissatisfied with the response from the Sheriff’s Department, won unanimous board approval to have the county chief executive make his own assessment and return with proposed policy changes by Jan. 19.

They acknowledged that “great strides” had been made in reducing overtime but “more needs to be done.”

The supervisors called for a reevaluation of a policy that allows deputies to work up to 96 hours a month in overtime -- the equivalent of nine extra months of work each year.

Supervisors also called for monitoring the highest overtime earners.