Almost 40 percent of police officers who took job training courses under Montgomery County's tuition assistance program did so while on the clock, according to an internal police investigation, violating county rules and showcasing more widespread abuse of the classes.
A February police probe obtained by The Washington Examiner shows about 360 police officers between fiscal 2007 and 2009 took training courses under the tuition assistance programwhile on the clock -- costing taxpayers $273,000. County employees were not allowed to take the classes during their official workday.
Coupled with more than $400,000 in public money county officials say was squandered on steep gun discounts, the tuition assistance program wasted about $700,000 -- at a minimum -- in taxpayer money, according to the findings.
During the period, 539 applications were filed by police officers for college courses, another wing of the program, but the internal affairs division was unable to assess time sheet violations because employees weren't required to list the dates and times of the classes they attended.
Internal investigation » 359 public safety officials, or 38 percent of those taking training classes, did so on the clock between fiscal 2007 and 2009, in violation of county policy. » At a conservative rate of $35 per hour, the 7,822.5 hours cost taxpayers $273,788. » 353 of the violations were by Fraternal Order of Police union members.
Top members of County Executive Ike Leggett's staff called the police investigation "ongoing" when asked by The Washington Examiner in recent weeks about the time sheets -- a position officials maintained Tuesday, nearly five months after the results of the police investigation.
"That's just a preliminary report," Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said, adding officials have yet to interview officers about the time sheets.
When asked why there have been no interviews, he added, "Well, welcome to labor relations."
He said officials sent letters to police officers identified in the report, but the officers referred questions to union leaders.
Walt Bader, the chief negotiator for the Fraternal Order of Police, said "virtually all" of the job training classes were taken on leave time and that officers are being blamed for an incident that has snowballed into a public relations fiasco.
"The fact that it's 359 out of 1,200 officers [being blamed] shows you a problem with a system," he said. "When something goes wrong 359 times, the problem isn't with the individuals -- it's with the administration. The county is embarrassed, and now it's going after individual officers to get training money."
The county estimated more than 200 public safety officials were sold $600 Glock handguns for $99 upon completion of some of thecourses. The Examiner also first reported county employees took sailing retreats, Spanish lessons in Costa Rica and hot yoga sessions under the program.