Audit finds Fresno officers taught classes on city time. Could police funding get cut?

A city audit concludes that at least four Fresno police officers were paid for hours they didn’t actually work – but Chief Jerry Dyer said it’s more complicated than that.

The audit triggered an Internal Affairs review and caused at least one Fresno City Councilmember to reconsider the police department’s proposed 2020 budget that’s being debated this month. Many called for accountability among the department’s leadership.

Dyer chalked up the findings to issues with the department’s timesheet software and said the department already has moved to correct some issues.

The Bee requested an interview with the mayor or city manager, and received a statement from City Manager Wilma Quan through city spokesman Mark Standriff.

Quan, who ordered the audit and released it Thursday, said she stands by the professionalism, dedication and integrity of the city’s internal auditors, police department and police chief.

“The reason why the city of Fresno conducts internal audits is to ensure that we are following our procedures, and I am confident that the audit and the resulting corrections demonstrate that our processes work as intended,” Quan says in the statement.

Audit findings

City staff launched the audit after receiving anonymous emails in April 2015 alleging Fresno Police Department employees were teaching Police Academy classes at Fresno City College during city time and working more hours than allowed. The internal auditor inspected the police department’s payroll and work permits from Jan. 1, 2015, to April 30, 2018.

Four police investigators’ timesheets for work with the police department had hours recorded that overlapped with hours they taught at the academy, which is run by the State Center Community College District. One officer had nearly 350 overlapping hours and almost $8,000 in pay that the auditor couldn’t verify. The audit also found overlapping hours for another patrol officer and three special assignment officers.

The audit also found that most of the officers teaching at Fresno City allowed their work permits to expire. Nine officers exceeded the number of permitted hours worked outside the police department. For this finding, the audit recommended the officers face discipline.

Police response

Dyer and police department management launched an internal affairs investigation after learning the audit’s findings.

In response to the audit, department managers said supervisors allow and sign off on officers flexing their time between department schedules and teaching hours. However, the police department’s electronic time sheet system cannot properly record the flexed hours.

The police department also will more closely monitor work permits to make sure they’re renewed on time. Neither the written response to the audit nor Dyer in responses to written questions said whether the department will follow through with discipline for officers.

Dyer said the audit findings will help the police department improve. “We will certainly learn from some of the things we found, not only from the internal audit by the city but also the one by our department. It also allowed us to realize that although the initial findings were of significant concern, once you drill down deeper there were some logical explanations as to why those findings occurred in the first place.”

City Council response

Councilmember Nelson Esparza, who heads up the council’s finance and audit committee, said the audit showed more a lack of accountability by the department’s leadership rather than egregious errors by rank-and-file officers.

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who also sits on the committee, said the audit functioned as it should and he’s confident the problems will be fixed. He said it’s up to Dyer to make decisions about discipline and the audit is an accountability measure for supervisors who signed off on the overlapping hours.

“These are not some Watergate-type investigations,” Bredefeld said. “These are self-generated audits to make sure city government is operating effectively and appropriately. That’s what is happening as a result of these audits, whether it’s the police department, Granite Park or parking meters.”

Councilmember Miguel Arias, however, called the audit findings “extremely alarming.” He said it was alarming to learn that officers who were entrusted to teach were failing to follow department and city policies, and the findings show potential for significant liability for the city.

“When the audit finds an officer potentially worked 57 hours in a week teaching and a full schedule with the city, that’s not the kind of rested peace officer that is going to be well prepared to engage in a very demanding job,” Arias said. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure. ... citizens are not being responded to by an officer that’s overworked and tired. It puts their safety at risk and the officer’s safety at risk.”

Budget implications

Arias said if the findings in the audit amount to a software problem, Dyer should’ve requested resources for that in his proposed budget.

“It justifies us re-evaluating the department’s budget request,” Arias said.

But the other finance and audit committee members, Bredefeld and Esparza, said they didn’t see the audit interfering with the police department’s budget.

Neither did Dyer. He called Arias’ comments political.

“I’m sure I’ll be having one-on-one conversations with certain individuals to determine what their concerns are,” Dyer said.

Budget hearings resume Tuesday, and the City Council is required to pass a balanced budget by June 30.

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