Holyoke mayoral candidate calls for audit in wake of police overtime revelations

  • Holyoke Police cars parked at the William S. Taupier Municipal Parking Garage on Division Street on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2021 8:30:03 PM

HOLYOKE — The two candidates running for mayor in Holyoke are reacting to a Gazette report on overtime spending in the city’s Police Department, detailing the department’s highest-paid overtime earners, the majority of whom are supervisors.

In a social media post, Blandford Town Administrator Joshua Garcia said Wednesday that “excessive overtime” in city departments is a symptom of the larger problem of disjointed administrative structures in Holyoke, and that the Police Department shouldn’t be singled out. He promised to look at directing merit pay increases to first responders using coronavirus relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act next year.

At-large City Councilor Michael Sullivan, meanwhile, issued a press release calling for an independent audit of the Police Department. Sullivan said he has previously called for an audit of the department’s “handling of state and federal grant programs,” and that “excessive overtime” is a sign of mismanagement he intends to fix.

Through a public records request, the Gazette obtained the Holyoke Police Department’s internal spreadsheets tracking overtime hours. An analysis found that 15 Holyoke police officers filed between 507 and 1,234 overtime hours in fiscal year 2020. The officers included four of the department’s five highest-paid officers that fiscal year, who earned hourly overtime rates ranging from $94 to $109 an hour.

Overtime costs in the Holyoke Police Department have been the subject of scrutiny this year in the City Council, which in June cut $150,000 from the department’s overtime account. The budget cut came after Rafael Roca, a Holyoke police officer, was suspended in March after he posted a viral video alleging “corrupt” practices and overtime abuse in the Police Department. Officials have denied Roca’s accusations.

In a previous interview with the Gazette, Holyoke Police Capt. Matthew Moriarty said staffing cuts in the patrol officer and supervisor ranks, as well as a wave of retirements, have led to increased overtime. He also pointed to high levels of drug trafficking and violence as reasons for overtime, adding that supervisors often take grant-funded overtime and other extra shifts because patrol officers don’t sign up for those hours.

Moriarty and Police Chief David Pratt did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Calls for audit

In a phone interview Wednesday, acting Mayor Terence Murphy said that much of the department’s overtime comes from state and federal grants and that it’s difficult to hire full-time officers with those grants. He said that he and the City Council have had an eye on overtime in the department and that he has spoken at length with Pratt about planning into the future. He said that already this fiscal year, the department has spent far less than previously.

Sullivan told the Gazette Wednesday that “excessive hours” are not healthy for department employees, their families, co-workers and the general public they are supposed to be serving. He said Moriarty is right about understaffing but that the administration of grants should be handled outside the Police Department and that “inexperienced leadership” has led to the police unions getting “whatever they asked for” in negotiations. Moriarty is the president of the department’s supervisors union.

“Who in their right mind would agree to any of that stuff in all of those contracts?” Sullivan asked.

He acknowledged that he hasn’t negotiated union contracts before, but said he was familiar with “union tactics, union strategies and union negotiations” from his time as a businessman.

Sullivan said an audit would be a “top priority” in his administration, and that he would go beyond the “independent assessment” some councilors have called for. He said that assessment amounted to paying “a college professor to look at best practices,” and that if elected his administration would look at “much more than a college professor.”

Garcia said Thursday in a phone interview that he does think the Holyoke Police Department has problems with overtime, and that as the city’s managers, elected officials are responsible for coming up with solutions.

“The Police Department is doing what they’re supposed to be doing — police services. The finances and how we manage them, that’s up to us,” he said. “That’s why the central focus of my campaign is around how we manage our affairs so we protect our local assets and resources and provide quality services for the city of Holyoke.”

Garcia said his platform has been focused on intergovernmental management, and that he would support internal audits of all city departments, as Sullivan had called for. In his statement, Garcia also said that the Gazette’s analysis didn’t consider that FY20 was “the first full year under COVID.” He said that at least 27 Police Department employees were quarantined, resulting in overtime, and that the COVID-19 response also created extra work.

2019 figures comparable

The Gazette has obtained 10 years of overtime figures from the department, though its initial reporting only included fiscal year 2020. An analysis of overtime figures from fiscal year 2019 shows a similar amount of overtime hours worked, and a similar picture in terms of the officers receiving that overtime work.

Holyoke police worked 29,258.5 overtime hours in fiscal year 2020. That’s 668.5 more hours than the 28,590 overtime hours worked in the previous fiscal year — a 2.3% increase. The department’s fiscal year 2020 overtime figures do show 487 overtime hours labeled “COVID,” though that includes everything from setting up testing sites to COVID exposure.

The top 15 overtime workers in the Holyoke Police Department look nearly identical in fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020. Of the 15 officers who worked the most overtime in fiscal year 2020, 13 of them also made the top 15 in fiscal year 2019. That includes the same seven supervisors who made the top 15 in fiscal year 2020.

In fiscal year 2019, Sgt. John Hart, now a lieutenant, filed 1,005.5 overtime hours — more than anyone at the department. The other supervisors in the top 15 that fiscal year were Lt. John Monaghan, who claimed 845 hours of overtime, followed by Capt. David Pratt, now the police chief, who claimed 805.5 hours. Lt. Jim Albert filed for 800.5 overtime hours, Lt. Laurence Cournoyer 605.5 hours, Capt. Matthew Moriarty 519.5 hours and Sgt. Daniel Reardon 510 hours.

Accountability

The issue of Police Department overtime is on the minds of some residents, and at least one candidate for elected office is hearing about it from constituents.

Will Puello, who is running unopposed to fill Murphy’s City Council seat in Ward 2, said he has been knocking on doors in the ward, which includes parts of the Churchill, Springdale, Ingleside and South Holyoke neighborhoods. He said people have expressed frustration seeing police officers making as much as $264,000 a year — the amount of money Pratt made in 2020.

“A four-star general doesn’t even make that much — in charge of nuclear weapons and thousands of people,” said Puello, who has served as a military police officer himself. “We love the police … They do amazing things, but there needs to be accountability and it needs to be addressed.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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