Time Card Scandal: What the Official Version of the Story Is Missing

As the result of a number of private conversations I have had and correspondence that has been sent to me anonymously, I have been able to discern a subtle but important difference between the official version that has been publicly stated and what people who work within the department saw with regard to the time card scandal.

I have waited a considerable period of time since learning of what really happened in order to confirm the story, and to wait for the official version to become complete. With Chief Reese’s testimony before Council last night, the official version is now complete, and I have been told by several different people that my understanding of what happened more closely matches what happened.

Two different types of time card ‘falsification’ took place.  In this post, I will attempt to explain the two types, and why I feel one does not equate to the other legally or ethically.

Slide Time

The first type was known by some inside the department as “slide time”: shift leaders would let their subordinates leave a few minutes early on occasion as a small reward for good performance. This practice was fairly widespread and involved a very small amount of time overall, sometimes half an hour and usually less.

So-called “slide time” was not a conspiracy to defraud the city. It was a small perk, which promoted good morale within the department. I have personally held jobs where the boss would occasionally “cut us loose” half an hour early on a sunny Friday afternoon, as have many people. I would still get paid for the full working day. As a matter of fact, my current employer has an official policy and tradition of granting “slide time” on Christmas Eve: everyone works a half day but gets paid for a full day.

Walk-Away Time

A second form of falsification, which I will call “walk-away” time, involved a more concerted, malicious, and deliberate effort to defraud the city. Senior ranking officers following this practice would leave their squad cars parked outside the Police HQ building with the in-vehicle computer logged in, and walk away. They would not tell dispatch that they were actually going off-duty. They would sometimes leave several hours before their shift was scheduled to end. Another senior officer would wait until the shift was at its scheduled end, then walk outside and log the in-vehicle computer off.

“Walk-Away Time” was a true conspiracy. It was designed to exact revenge upon the city for the reduction of the Command Officers’ work week. It was practiced by a very small number of the command officers, perhaps only five or six, and condoned by the Captain in charge of the Operations Division.

“Walk-Away Time” offended the sensibilities of many people on the force, which has a large majority of very honest, scrupulous, upstanding police officers. Sooner or later, someone who was aware of the practice wrote an anonymous letter blowing the whistle to the Chief, thus bringing the fraud to light.

Why Are So Many Command Officers Being Punished?

Learning about this led me to ask a question: why were the other command officers going along with the punishment even though they had not directly participated in the most grievous part of the fraud? Why did they not publicly expose the real truth and the difference between those who were walking away hours before shift end and those who were merely letting subordinates go a few minutes early, or being let go a little early themselves?

The answer to that question is somewhat complex. The following is my analysis of what the motivations were.

First, this was damage control by the city. An untold number of officers, both command and non-command, were given “slide-time”. Limiting those affected by the punishment to command officers in one division thus saved the city the need to discipline or attempt to prosecute the entire department.

The command officers involved were all told that there was no difference in their guilt whether they had experienced or given “slide time” or had “walked away” as part of a conspiracy.  In the words of the Chief, “the degree of participation does not lessen the violation.”

Another reason for punishing all of the command officers in the Operations Division instead of just the select few was to avoid a huge legal problem. It was felt that singling out five or six officers for severe punishment or termination would certainly have resulted in grievances being filed, arbitration, and lawsuits. The singled-out officers, it was feared, could have made the case that everyone in the department was somehow culpable of the same thing, just to a different degree. The end result would have been a feared legal nightmare for the city.

Police Officers, just like every other citizen, have a right to due process under the law. The Chief stated in his presentation to council that the Garrity decision precluded the department from using the officers’ own statements against them as part of a criminal prosecution. This, of course, is a situation which the city created itself, knowing full well that taking self-incriminatory statements would negate the usefulness of the evidence. As the Chief said, the surveillance cameras and time card system did not make it easy to establish the guilt of individuals without their testimony. So without critical evidence arising from the testimony of the officers themselves, it was believed that there was no avenue left for criminal prosecution.

The command officers that were interviewed by the Special Investigations Bureau were asked one simple question: have you ever left work prior to the time indicated on your signed time card? If their answer was yes, or they admitted to knowing about someone who had done so, they were considered guilty. That was enough to establish the reason for taking action on a “personnel mater”, and also invoked the officer’s right against self-incrimination, thus, it is thought, precluding criminal charges from being brought.

My opinion

I am told that many in the department are angry with the small number of officers who conspired to deliberately defraud the city, and would like to see them fired and prosecuted. The city’s reaction to the scandal has stirred up animosity within the department during a period of time that labor negotiations are not settled.

All 21 of the Command Officers are going to be publicly revealed via the FOIA process underway by various media outlets operating within the city. As the Chief mentioned, this will tarnish reputations and cause these officers public humiliation. Now that you know the complete story, you can see how for many of these men and women, this humiliation is completely undeserved.

One of the key tenets of criminal justice is that the accused not only has to be proven guilty of the crime, but he must have formed what is known as criminal intent.  He had to know what he was doing was wrong, and decide to do so anyway.  The balance of the command officers, in my opinion, did not form criminal intent before deciding on their actions.

Thus, the majority of those whose names will be revealed aren’t guilty of a conspiracy. They’re being thrown under the bus to save a few from being criminally prosecuted and to save the city from a lengthy legal process.

Not everyone whose name you will see in the media in upcoming weeks really did something that many people consider wrong. These men and women along with their families will have their reputations tarnished and be subjected to humiliation because the city lacked the fortitude necessary to punish the few who were behaving like criminals. Allowing this to happen is immoral.

Anyone who has taken the Citizen’s Police Academy course occasionally given by the city has met many fine, upstanding, honest officers and knows the general character of the people in the department. Up until now, the city has enjoyed an excellent reputation that has by and large been earned by the efforts of hard-working men and women who put their lives on the line for us with every traffic stop and every 911 call.

Destroying this fine city’s reputation will have a direct effect on the residents of the city. Destroying the reputations of the innocent men and women in blue will subject their families, friends, and most importantly, their children, to undeserved humiliation, shame, and stress.

Once again, the city has taken the pragmatic approach instead of doing what is right. Once again, I am forced to ask: how can the administration sleep at night?


About Geoff

Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Programmer, Geek, Scrapper

Posted on March 21, 2012, in Public Safety. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great job,Geoff.Slide time i would guess has been going on for years.Similar “free” time goes on in my shop. Walk away as you stated was defrauding the city out of money for hours not worked.Thoes officers that were “punched in” while not working to me is criminal fraud.Those are the ones who should be fired.To make all pay for a few with equal punishmentis wrong in my opinion.

  2. I came here after seeing the link in the Macomb Daily. The only comment I have is in regard to you saying most of those involved did not form “criminal intent”. Well using your definition as “knowing what they did was wrong”, how can you say that? You are telling me that these high ranking officers had no idea that aiding in the falsifying of time records, from which compensation is derived, was wrong? Of course they knew it was wrong, they just told themselves it wasn’t “that wrong”.

    The supposed “slide time” issue is a smoke screen. The vast majority of tax payers wouldn’t get worked up about 15 minutes here and there by someone. If these Sargents and Lieutenants don’t know the difference between that, and willfully deciding to exact a measure of revenge against the city for what they perceive as an injustice done to them, then they aren’t worthy of the rank they hold. Bowing to peer pressure isn’t an acceptable excuse when someone gives it to a police officer, it shouldn’t be acceptable for them to use it.

    • Chris: you’re right, most taxpayers wouldn’t care about 15 minutes here and there, but the people who allowed that to happen on occasion or had it happen to/for themselves were considered just as guilty as those who stole time in multi-hour increments. I don’t see how the two equate myself. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Wow, too bad the other City employees (you know, the general employees who aren’t considered quite as valuable as the “public safety” employees) don’t have “slide time” as a perk.

  4. geoff , you did a great job breaking down the difference between ” slide time ” and ” walk away time “. i have certainly been given slide time in my job, so i can understand the officers doing this, it is relatively harmless but not technically right. i really don’t think the officers who took a little slide time should be fired. as a resident of sterling hts the ” walk away time ” makes me absolutely sick. you said it was only practiced by a few and it was large chuncks of time . then to go one step further and form intent any officer who left hours early would have a co worker sign him off. now these men or women, the truly guilty who were signing each other off, are not being prosecuted or fired !! if you dont have enough evidence for prosecution fine , but to let the ” walk away culprits ” keep thier jobs is dead wrong, they should at the very least be fired. i know i would have definitely been fired if i had done that at my job. i have always had a great deal of respect for the sterling hts police dept but this stinks of corruption. if the administration doesnt step up and do the right thing and fire ” the walk aways ” ill lump sterling hts in with the alot of other police depts that do not police themselves correctly.

  5. Thanks for the thorough and clear explanation of the situation, Geoff. I am most bothered by the fact that the City took the easy way out. Why should all the officers be lumped in together? This is a clear case of failed City leadership. The City should have spent the time and energy necessary to find the actual culprits and mete out punishment accordingly.

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