Follow the Money

The Miami Police Department gobbles up nearly half the city's budget, about $150 million annually. Inadequate supervision inside the department squanders much of that taxpayer money, as underscored by a series of audits conducted by Miami's Office of Internal Audits, which tracks the flow of money into and out of city departments. In a series of reports published since 2000, auditors have found several areas of abuse and mismanagement within the police department that have cost thousands of dollars.

From a sample of 329 long-distance calls made from the department telephones in September and November 1999, auditors identified 279 as "questionable," meaning the police officials could not verify they were related to work. Auditors came across calls to the Bahamas, Chile, Haiti, and Brazil. Several sources inside the department say many of those calls were made to 900 numbers commonly associated with phone sex. Auditors encouraged the department to establish controls and modify record-keeping so callers are identified.

The police department issues electronic cards so officers can fuel their vehicles at a county-run gas station. Each card is assigned to a specific vehicle. An audit of February 2000 "disclosed that 25 gasoline cards were used in multiple-purchase transactions on certain dates within close time intervals." In other words, cops were using their cards to fill a tank, and before that gas could be consumed the card was used to buy more gas. The most egregious example was a 6:53 a.m. purchase of 24 gallons. The same card was used again at 9:05 a.m. to buy twenty additional gallons. The police car would have had to zoom 400 miles to use up that much gas. "Upon inquiry the officer to whom the vehicle and gasoline card were assigned could not provide any explanation for these transactions," the audit report states. In another example a card was used to buy twelve gallons at 9:18 a.m. and again at noon to buy another twelve gallons, requiring the car to have traveled 244 miles in 2.7 hours. The officer claimed his card had been lost but he never reported it. In another instance, auditors found that a card issued to an inactive vehicle was mysteriously being used to buy gas. Auditors recommended that the department undertake a complete audit and inventory of gas-card usage.

Another audit report revealed that serious overtime abuses were occurring because supervisors were not reviewing overtime-request forms. Auditors examined 1998's $7.2 million in overtime costs but concentrated only on those charges associated with court appearances. One officer who earned $43,431 per year in salary took home an additional $42,938 in overtime as a result of manipulating his schedule to appear in court only during off-work, overtime periods. Police overtime abuse related to court appearances was the subject of a 1997 investigation by the Miami Herald. Following publication of "Collars for Dollars," police chiefs, court administrators, and prosecutors vowed reform.

A review of 938 special-event permits on file in the department's special-events unit showed no receipts for 139 of the permits, which applicants must purchase. In addition the department was not charging a $30 administrative fee for all parade and procession applications. The explanation? The department "was not aware" the fee was required. Police officials agreed to purchase a cash register that would log all transactions.

 
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