BOSTON (CBS) – It is a lucrative job perk picked up by Massachusetts taxpayers. The WBZ-TV I-Team discovered some Environmental Police officers are racking up hundreds of overtime hours, even doubling their salaries, thanks to working at state-operated pools in the middle of their shifts.
Critics call the unusual “split shift” system a waste of resources. But when questioned, agency leaders told the I-Team they do not think it’s a problem.
Pools are now closed for the season, but some of the Environmental Police officers are still swimming in cash they earned from the details paid by their sister agency at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
During the summer, the I-Team observed officers stationed at a variety of DCR pools while collecting overtime pay. The I-Team then requested officers’ time sheets to see how often they split their shifts to accommodate paid details and how many hours of overtime they received.
Note: WBZ did not receive the time sheet records until late October, after appealing to the Secretary of State’s Office for the state agency’s lack of response to the request
Those payroll records revealed officers split their shifts to work details on a regular basis.
Here is how it works: An officer will punch in on regular duty, punch out to work the detail, and then return to finish up the shift. In order to work a split shift, officers are required to put in eight hours and 30 minutes of regular duties.
Over the two-month period the I-Team reviewed, a lieutenant worked 34 different shifts at DCR pools. At an overtime rate of $65 per hour, he made roughly $13,260 from those details.
The same lieutenant also worked 130 hours of DCR details at state parks and forests, bringing the two-month overtime tally to roughly $21,710. According to his time cards, the lieutenant worked more overtime hours than regular hours during that period.
“My concern is it’s a waste of money for the taxpayers,” said Greg Sullivan, a former state inspector general who now studies public policy at the Pioneer Institute. “This seems like a sweetheart deal for environmental police officers to pad their paychecks.”
The I-Team also observed a sergeant who was a regular this summer at a DCR pool in Lowell, working 30 different overtime shifts.
Last year, payroll records show that environmental officer more than doubled his salary, bringing home $161,330. That made him the highest-paid employee in the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EEA), even out-earning Secretary Matthew Beaton.
An EEA spokesman said patrols at DCR parks and facilities are designed to promote a safe environment for residents and deter any criminal activity.
“I really question whether that is an efficient use of the police department from a public safety point of view to have an officer making overtime to sit at a pool,” Sullivan said, adding the patrols should be just part of an officer’s regular duties.
The I-Team did occasionally see officers go inside pool facilities to interact with staff and swimmers. But most of the time, they sat inside their state vehicles.
On one rainy day in August, the I-Team saw officers stationed outside three different locations. Inside the pools, there wasn’t a person in sight.
Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said most law enforcement officers in the state are only allowed to work paid details after their shifts, or on their days off. He believes the system would be very difficult to supervise.
“This process of splitting the shifts is a recipe for a problem,” Davis said. “Officers actually leaving their job to work a detail and then coming back is a real problem in managing the patrol force.”
The overtime detail money is appropriated annually through an interdepartmental agreement between DCR and Environmental Police. The arrangement began in 2010.
According to figures provided to the I-Team, the amount has grown in the past several years. In fiscal year 2014, details at DCR pools and facilities cost $186,371. In 2016, the amount rose to $234,584.
EEA spokesman Peter Lorenz said the officers’ collective bargaining agreement allows them to work split shifts. The setup allows for optimal coverage of conservation law enforcement needs like sunrise and sunset hunting, or tidal changes that influence fisheries, Lorenz said.
However, the I-Team noticed examples of officers using vacation, personal, or even sick time to reach the required 8.5-hour total of regular duty.
Take this example from a sergeant on July 28: He punched in from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.; worked at a DCR pool from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; punched back in from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; collected more overtime at a DCR pool from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; punched back in for 30 minutes; and finished the shift using two hours of personal time.
EEA declined interview requests to discuss the findings, so the I-Team caught up to the leader of the Environmental Police Department, Colonel James McGinn, as he left work.
When asked about the use of taxpayer resources at DCR pools, McGinn responded, “The situation all depends on what they are doing at the pool. They could be doing work inside their car. There is nothing mandatory that they have to stand by the pool.”
The I-Team also asked about the frequency of overtime shifts and how officers are supervised, noting the time sheets do not have any gap in time to account for travel between regular duty and paid details.
“I’d have to see the paperwork you have,” McGinn answered. “Unless I can be shown documentation, this is just wild allegations.”
“It’s a system that’s worked for years,” he added.
McGinn said conversation law enforcement agencies throughout the Northeast offer split shifts to officers.
The I-Team contacted agency leaders in New Hampshire and Maine. Both said they have flexible hours to account for enforcement needs. However, they do not allow officers to split their shifts to work details.
“I wouldn’t let officers work four hours and then go do a private detail,” said Colonel Kevin Jordan in New Hampshire. “We don’t have the luxury that would allow us to do that type of stuff.”
One DCR employee who requested anonymity said it is time for state leaders to make a change.
“The park rangers and lifeguards should be patrolling the state pools and parks with environmental officers making occasional rounds during normal patrol time,” the employee said. “That would be the right thing to do and it would save the state a ton of money.”
Ryan Kath can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.