Accused of fraudulently receiving more than $360,000 in overtime pay, dozens of California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers have temporarily been relieved of duty. According to police officials, the CHP officers falsely claimed to work hundreds of hours of overtime protecting Caltrans crews working on the freeways when in fact the crews remained unprotected.
“I have been aware of the ongoing investigation into overtime abuse in our East Los Angeles Area office, and I am frankly angered and appalled by the actions of those involved,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a statement on Friday. “Let me be clear, the CHP does not tolerate misconduct by any of its employees. The moment CHP management discovered the potential misconduct, we immediately launched an investigation.”
According to Chief Mark Garrett, head of the agency’s southern division, dozens of officers and their supervising sergeants approved at least $360,000 in fraudulent overtime from March 2016 through 2018.
“This information has shaken us to our core,” Chief Garrett told KTLA. “I’m personally taken aback and angry about it.”
Garrett added, “We have every reason to believe they were committing theft from the taxpayers of California. We feel that criminal activity occurred.”
“On behalf of the 14,000 men and women who make up [our] membership, we’re saddened by these allegations against employees of the California Highway Patrol,” the California Association of Highway Patrolmen wrote in a statement Friday regarding the investigation. “This ongoing investigation serves as a reminder to us all of the important bond of trust we share with the public we serve and the importance of carrying out our duties with the integrity expected of our profession.”
Although the investigation remains ongoing, CHP officials claim the overtime abuse scandal is isolated to the East Los Angeles office. Chief Garrett noted that although the other CHP offices passed the initial assessments of their overtime records, further audits will take place to prevent any more potential misconduct.
“We have every reason to believe this is an isolated cancer in an otherwise healthy body,” Garrett said. “We plan to cut it out, remove it, repair the body and move on from there.”
The investigation began last year after command staff noticed anomalies in the amount of overtime pay accrued by the East Los Angeles office. With their supervising sergeant’s permission, dozens of CHP officers allegedly participated in a scheme to falsely claim overtime hours protecting Caltrans highway crews when in fact the officers never worked those hundreds of hours.
“We’re embarrassed about this,” Garrett admitted. “We’re not happy about the behavior of our members of the department. When we found out about this, we knew what the right thing to do as management was — do a thorough, complete, comprehensive investigation of our own employees at the risk of public scrutiny because it’s the right thing to do.”