DPS commissioner struggles to resolve overtime issues for cops
Police Commissioner William Haleck says the issue involving overtime for police officers is "out of control" and this is something he is working on resolving with the help of his deputies, commanders, and senior DPS officials.
Haleck told members of the House of Representatives during his confirmation hearing last month that the issue with overtime pay occurred before he came on board and the situation is very important to Gov. Lolo M. Moliga, who has called for a review of the matter.
Rep. Larry Sanitoa said there is a clear lack of training and people are being underpaid in the American Samoa Government, the Department of Public Safety included. According to Sanitoa, the US Department of Labor says the (as yet) unpaid money for overtime is over $900,000 and part of the problem now is trying to find additional sources of revenue to fund these overtime payments.
Sanitoa said the bulk of the payments are for DPS. "This is a serious issue," he said, adding that there appears to be a lack of training as far as interpreting federal laws and regulations pertaining to overtime payments.
Commissioner Haleck explained that the issue with overtime payments is something that was problematic before he came on board as head of DPS and he is trying to implement controls with the help of current manpower.
He said one of the biggest problems is the fact that the DPS is very shorthanded, hence the need to start up another police academy to train a new batch of 20-25 cops. He said with the opening of the new DPS substation in Leone, DPS has had to shuffle people out of the Tafuna substation to fill positions at the Leone substation.
He further explained that too many cops are taking sick leave — meaning cops who are going off shift often end up having to take on an additional shift to cover for their absent colleague.
According to Haleck, DPS owed about $800,000 worth of overtime payments to their personnel between 2009-2012.
Last October, then Governor Togiola Tulafono sought Fono approval for an appropriation bill seeking to cover unpaid overtime for government workers. The Fono never acted on the proposed legislation.
At the time, the American Samoa Government was said to have owed over $900,000 in overtime payment to workers for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, with Togiola saying that failure to address the issue would subject the government to further federal actions and penalties.
The US Department of Labor's investigation into possible underpayment of working hours and the failure to pay overtime for ASG workers and personnel of the LBJ Medical Center first surfaced in late 2011 when LBJ officials revealed the federal probe during a House hearing.
In his Sept.24, 2012 letter to the Fono, Togiola said the proposed appropriation bill was for overtime payment for employees who were found by the USDOL investigation to be owed payment of overtime hours they accrued during FY 2010 and 2011, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the letter, the USDOL's investigation "helped uncover and identify weaknesses in ASG's overtime and compensatory time keeping policies, and the Department of Human Resources and the Attorney General's Office have worked to develop policies which are compliant with the FLSA." He added that these policies are currently being implemented to ensure that FLSA compliance issues are avoided in the future.
It is unclear exactly how many employees are affected by the USDOL investigation, but Togiola's appropriation bill was for the amount of $916,093 — with the highest amount of $839,667 allocated for the Department of Public Safety.
A total of 15 other government departments and agencies were allocated money for overtime payments under the proposed appropriation bill, which was to be funded with revenue collected through administration bills submitted in 2011 to the Fono — bills which included a raise on the excise tax on tobacco, beer and alcohol; a new corporate franchise tax; and business license fees.
None of the bills were passed by the Fono