Last week, D.C. Chief of Police Larry Soulsby stood under klieg lights in the lineup room of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) headquarters. The chief stared down four unblinking television cameras and talked about a brighter tomorrow.
The homicide scandal, he said, is about "good people who got lax and lax and lax by following the rules." But MPD must march on, Soulsby stressed. "We've got to be concentrated on the future."
Soulsby has every incentive not to concentrate on the past. On Sept. 21, he reacted with surprise and horror when the Washington Post reported that homicide detectives were drawing profane amounts of overtime pay that pushed their salaries well into the six-figure range. "Apparently, some people" were running a scam, he told the Post. The chief "apparently" neglected to mention that he knew all about the scam six years ago. In March 1991, then-D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe released a 60-page report reviewing MPD's use of overtime pay in the 1980s. The report, compiled at the request of the D.C. Council, revealed that MPD investigators had milked overtime at a rate that grew 718 percent over a six-year period ending in 1990. Troupe noted the excessive overtime "particularly in units such as the homicide and morals division."
So where was Soulsby when Troupe issued his findings? He can't use any of the usual bureaucratic alibisthat he wasn't there, he didn't know, or he couldn't have acted. Soulsby was commander of the homicide unit for part of the period studied in the Troupe report. When the report's damning conclusions came out, Soulsby was the director of the disciplinary sectionmeaning he was, according to MPD spokesperson Sgt. Joe Gentile, "responsible for reviewing all major disciplinary cases involving alleged police misconduct."
Troupe's report found that certain MPD officers were using overtime to make more in a year than the chief of police. He cited records of nine MPD investigators who used overtime to triple their base salaries and make close to or over $100,000 a year. The No. 1 earner pulled down $120,395. In fiscal year 1990, the combined salaries of the nine totaled $886,925. Six years later, it all sounds sickeningly familiar.
"MPD's use of overtime suggests a lack of direction or an inability to manage this significant area of cost to taxpayers because of weak internal controls and lack of management oversight," Troupe wrote. "Many officers in fact earn more than the Mayor and the City Administrator as a result of overtime."
Worse than how much dough they made was what they didn't do to get it. "The audit team noted instances where some officers who reported crime fighting overtime never actually left the station," says the report.
Although Troupe investigated the entire department, he cited the homicide division for particularly severe abuses. "We conclude that the homicide branch is not exercising effective control over its caseload and some of the investigators assigned to it."
Despite the green the city was paying for homicide's OT, Troupe concluded, less work was getting done, and the problem showed up in the crime stats. "The homicide closure rate is shown at a decreased level," wrote Troupe.
"The Auditor concludes that the use of overtime in MPD is out of control and in need of the immediate attention of the highest District government officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches." Specifically, Troupe called for "a complete management review of the operations and management controls applicable to the homicide branch..."
In a telephone interview last week, Troupe said of his 1991 report, "I was wondering when someone would get around to finding that land mine."
After the report was released in March 1991, Troupe's office spent six months assisting MPD's Internal Affairs Division (IAD) to investigate the nine officers cited in the report for riding the overtime gravy train.
The results of the IAD investigation have never been made publicmost likely because there were no results. According to a highly placed D.C. government official who asked not to be identified, several of the $100K earners retired without a blemish on their records.
"There were no disciplinary actions," Troupe says. "I don't think any of the officers were sanctioned either on the job or challenged as a result. I don't think any of them were 'invited' to put in early retirement. It was as though we never did a report, as though those findings were never made."
Or at least never heeded. Six years later, a Washington Post Freedom of Information Act request unearthed the same scandal: This time, 12 homicide investigators used overtime to double and triple their salaries, pulling down gross 1996 earnings between $103,267 and $150,119. The 12 investigators in the Over $100K Club collected $1,421,091 combined, a hefty price for a homicide closure rate barely half the national average.
Soulsby acknowledged that homicide investigators had been running a scam and lamented in his news conference that homicide detectives used overtime to "make more than the chief."
He said homicide investigators had spent their days in court and at the U.S. Attorney's office, "and then [they] come back here and work cold cases on overtime" instead of turning over leads on new ones. He had no way of knowing what actual work the investigators did on the cold cases, although they are supposed to note their work on those cases files. But, Soulsby said in his news conference, the case resumes are blank, and only the notes on their overtime slips indicate investigators were sweating over the paperwork.
As he was director of MPD's disciplinary review section in 1991, Soulsby has no plausible deniability on the overtime scam, according to Troupe. "Well, then he should have seen [the report], and he should have acted," says the former auditor. "There's no way he couldn't have seen it."
Says Troupe: "We're not really seeing a déjà vu scandal here, because déjà vu implies that it happened, stopped happening, and then has happened again. What we are on here is a long slide down the razor blade of financial responsibility and agency venality."CP