Honolulu police chief acknowledges OT abuse by virus units

HONOLULU — Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said her department takes responsibility for the actions of officers on its now-suspended coronavirus enforcement units who are accused of abusing the department’s overtime policy.

Ballard confirmed Monday in a statement on social media that multiple investigations are being conducted about the officers accused of submitting as many as 300 overtime hours in one week.

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Ballard also criticized state lawmakers for not amending a state law that makes violations of coronavirus-related health orders a misdemeanor.

The police department “believes that a fine would have accomplished the desired change in public behavior without flooding the courts,” Ballard wrote.

Fewer than one in 50 citations issued on Oahu for violating public health orders related to the pandemic resulted in convictions, Hawaii News Now reported.

Law enforcement officials suspended the coronavirus enforcement units on Nov. 20 after the officials were told in an internal memo that 59 officers on the task force had been flagged in an audit for overtime violations.

At least 10 officers logged 200 or more hours of overtime during a five-week period. Records show that two officers recorded more than 300 hours of overtime from Sept. 27 to Oct. 31, or about 60 hours of overtime each week.

Eight officers said they worked between 200 and 256 hours of overtime during the five-week period. Another 49 officers logged between 130 and 198 hours of overtime.

“We accept responsibility for the officers who violated HPD’s overtime policy regarding the number of hours worked using the COVID funds,” Ballard said. “Although these officers worked the hours, they still violated the department’s policy that limits overtime in order to protect the officer and the public.

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The job of ensuring that Honolulu’s residents and tourists are following coronavirus guidelines is now conducted by on-duty patrol officers, who take assignments based on their availability.

Honolulu Councilman Ron Menor, who chairs the city’s Legal Affairs Committee, previously called on the city to reinstate the virus enforcement unit, saying Ballard should only ban the officers currently under investigation for wrongdoing.

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