Officers worked long shifts, accrued sizable pay

Lengthy days raise questions of safety, cost to taxpayers
2009-11-15T00:00:00Z 2012-03-29T12:05:47Z Officers worked long shifts, accrued sizable pay Stephen Ceasar and Brady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

BISBEE - To see what can happen when a multimillion-dollar program has limited guidelines and loose oversight, look no further than Bisbee.

During a 71-day stretch in the fall of 2007, Bisbee Deputy Police Chief Ed Holly, 58, didn't take a single day off, working Operation Stonegarden shifts seven days a week on top of regular patrols five days a week. He averaged more than 14 hours a day on patrol.

During a separate 92-day stretch that year, Holly took just two days off from Stonegarden shifts and had only one day completely off. His average was nearly 14 hours per day.

By the end of 2007, Holly had made $99,000 in Stonegarden overtime pay, in addition to $65,000 for his regular job. His colleague, Sgt. Benjamin Reyna, 48, wasn't far behind: He made $60,000 in Stonegarden overtime that year in addition to $55,000 in regular pay.

All told, Holly has made more than $131,000 and Reyna more than $86,000 since 2007, when the federal government began paying law enforcement officers to work border security overtime shifts. Five police officers from the little town of Bisbee have made more than $42,700 in Stonegarden money. Only three other officers at the 10 agencies the Arizona Daily Star investigated made that much.

This level of detail about how the overtime money was distributed among cops is news to Operation Stonegarden grant managers, who don't track the money beyond how much each agency received.

Law enforcement experts say it's dangerous to let an officer work the hours Holly and Reyna did from March 2007 to March 2008: 40 hours a week in overtime for Holly and 35 for Reyna. Such a grueling schedule, day after day after day, could leave an officer tired and not as sharp - critical shortcomings in a field where decisions can mean the difference between life and death.

The hours would have broken the rules at several other Arizona law enforcement agencies that limit overtime hours to 24 or fewer a week to ensure officer and community safety.

"When you go long periods of time with no rest or no relaxation, that's when you start to get errors in judgment," said Raymond Michalowski, an Arizona Regents Professor in the department of criminology at Northern Arizona University. "I don't think we want people who are authorized to carry lethal weapons to be tired on the job."

Bisbee Police Chief Jim Elkins - who signed off on Holly's timecards and himself collected $17,000 in overtime in the program - defends the hours worked by Holly and Reyna and how the department divvied them up: first come, first served.

"It's not like they came in here and sat around and drank coffee and made $150,000," Elkins said. "They actually had to work, had to produce daily."

Still, Bisbee Mayor Jack Porter acknowledges the schedules raise questions.

"Am I 100 percent sure he was out on the street when he was billing those hours; was he actually doing Stonegarden work? I have no idea," Porter said. "I don't think anyone but Ed Holly knows that."

Holly declined repeated interview requests for this story, but those who know him say he's a workaholic and that long hours are the norm for him. Holly is on administrative leave for reasons not related to Stonegarden.

Bisbee capped officers' total annual compensation at $100,000 - meaning that's the most they can earn between their regular job and their Operation Stonegarden duties - after seeing Holly's and Reyna's 2007 earnings. But Bisbee taxpayers and city employees will pay for Holly's and Reyna's Stonegarden shifts for the rest of the officers' lives.

Their taxpayer-funded retirement pay - based on their highest consecutive three years of total compensation - will be drastically altered by Stonegarden. Holly's retirement will go up by 53 percent: $1,800 more a month, $21,700 more a year and an additional $433,000 if he lives 20 years. Reyna's will go up by 47 percent: $1,200 more a month, $14,600 more a year and $292,000 more over 20 years.

"This is what happens when you start throwing money around and there aren't guidelines on it with a government program - people take advantage of it," said Bisbee Mayor Porter.

Despite turning in biweekly timecards to Bisbee officials, daily activity reports to the U.S. Border Patrol and reimbursement requests with officer totals to the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, nobody questioned Holly's or Reyna's hours while they worked them.

When asked about the long hours and money earned, officials with Arizona Homeland Security and the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector said they had never heard of it. Both said it wasn't their job to track how departments distributed the funds.

"It wouldn't be of concern, or it wouldn't be common knowledge in this office," said Amy Bolton, spokeswoman with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, which manages the grant's finances for the state. "Somebody would have to be really, seriously looking at the files."

In January 2008, the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector honored Holly as a top performer with a $50 gift card and gave Bisbee Police a commendation award for referring more than 2,000 illegal immigrants and leading the nation in traffic stops and citations issued on Stonegarden shifts. On April 3, 2008, the sector's Stonegarden coordinator at the time, Michael Tucker, started an e-mail to Bisbee by calling the police department "superstars."

The Border Patrol makes sure agencies are following the operational plans each one develops for using Stonegarden funds but doesn't get involved in the supervision of police officers, said Robert Gilbert, the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector chief.

"We are not in the money management business; we are in the operation-management side of this," Gilbert said.

Gilbert has said before that, in border security, getting tired can mean getting hurt. But he declined to comment on whether having Holly and Reyna work that many hours was the best use of the funds.

"None of this is designed to make anybody rich," he said, talking in general terms about the program.

Timecards show that Bisbee Police Chief Elkins signed off on Holly's hours and Holly signed off on Reyna's hours. Bisbee City Manager Steve Pauken didn't notice the timecards but said Holly's and Reyna's 2007 W-2 forms caught his attention, prompting him to institute the $100,000 total pay cap that went into effect in 2008.

"I thought their totals for the calendar year 2007 were an indication that they might be working more often than I felt that they could safely work both for themselves and the public we serve," Pauken said.

But his decision does not mean he thought Holly and Reyna did anything wrong, he said.

"He (Holly) was out there doing what Stonegarden was supposed to be doing," Pauken said. "If Tucson Sector didn't think he wasn't doing his job, they certainly wouldn't have recognized him for it."

Although Holly wouldn't talk to reporters, Reyna said his military background and personality suit him to work long hours, and that the money earned is a testament to his ambition.

"My work ethic is different than others'; I don't have a problem with working a 12-hour shift," Reyna said. "I have been exposed to that type of police work, and I know where to draw the line."

The shifts weren't always strenuous physically, he said.

"A lot of that is sitting. You know, a lot of it is watching vehicles go by, you stop and take a break, have a meal, that kind of thing," Reyna said.

Reyna said that he wasn't working the hours for money but admitted that his plans to retire in March 2010 factored into his decision to take so many shifts.

"Once I realized that the end result would be higher retirement, that became a motivation," Reyna said. "But the money, not really."

Bisbee police say they needed officers to step up and work enough hours to spend the $627,000 the state had allocated to the small department from November 2006 to October 2008. That was more than any other law enforcement agency in the state. The program is voluntary and each officer has the same opportunity to participate, said Bisbee Police spokesman Sgt. Taron Maddux.

"If they don't have problems working it and being out there and being active, I find it hard to tell somebody they can't go do their job," Maddux said.

Bisbee City Councilman Boyd Nicholl feels otherwise.

"It's a corrupting influence: too much money and too little oversight," Nicholl said. "It's just like it was free money and a big bag. There is no connection to people who actually put that money in the bag at some point, which is you and me."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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