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'Chief Days': Audit finds Manchester police gave out 466 extra days off since 2009, mum on what it cost taxpayers

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 11. 2018 9:23AM

MANCHESTER — More than a year's worth of extra time off was rewarded to city police officers since 2009, an internal audit of the practice known as 'Chief Days' concludes.

It found the practice, which began in the early 1990s under former police chief Louie Craig, expanded “without authorization” by department officials, and accelerated under former police chief Nick Willard, now the U.S. marshal for New Hampshire.

The report, compiled by city auditor Kevin Buckley, states former police chief Craig instituted the policy in 1991 as a way to reward officers who acted “above and beyond the call of duty.”

“Since that time the program that originally gave out a few awards has grown to include many other categories of awards and reached a high point of 131 days awarded in fiscal year 2017,” writes Buckley. “The expansion of the program appears to have been done without authorization, lacks any written policies and procedures and leave time is not tracked in the city’s financial system and not reported as a liability in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.”

According to the audit, 466 Chief Days have been awarded between fiscal years 2009 and 2018.

The audit fails to disclose how much the practice has cost the city in the form of unused vacation time bought back from police officers when they left the department.

“The number of Chief Days outstanding as of June 30, 2018 was 148, some of which were awarded as far back as 2009,” states the report. “Many employees had several unused Chief Days at year end and one employee had seven unused days on the books. Currently there are 148 Chief Days accrued that have been suspended waiting clarification of their status by the city. Employees working in good faith were awarded this benefit and it is recommended that the suspension of these days be lifted and the days currently accrued be allowed to be used.”

The results of the report are expected to be discussed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Aldermanic Committee on Accounts next week.

Mayor Joyce Craig said she first learned about Chief Days on June 1, when an attorney sent the city a notice that his client, Amanda Rogers, intends to sue because two former police officers allegedly used their positions of power to coerce her into sex. One of those officers, Darren Murphy, used Chief Days to meet with Rogers for sex, according to that letter.

Previous mayors also say they were never told of the reward system. Ted Gatsas, who preceded Craig, said he was unaware of Chief Days and would not have approved of the practice. Ray Wieczorek led the city from 1990 to 2000 and said he never heard about it; neither did Frank Guinta, who served as mayor from 2006 to 2010.

On Wednesday, Craig said she looks forward to discussing the audit results with the board.

“When we learned about the use of Chief Days, and in order to obtain all the facts surrounding their use, I asked for an audit of the practice,” said Craig. “I look forward to working with aldermen to review the report and address next steps identified by the independent city auditor.”

Former police chief Nick Willard described Chief Days as an unofficial or internal policy and said they are economically preferable to the city’s compensatory time policy. In an email sent to city aldermen last June, Willard wrote that Chief Days have been “part of the police department’s protocol” since he became a Manchester police officer in 1992.

Chief Craig started policy

According to Buckley’s audit report, minutes of the Manchester Police Commission from 1991 — which at the time had administrative control over the police department — show that “Chief Craig had started a new policy to award these days off,” the audit states.

“The commission seemed fully aware of the policy and of awards being presented,” the report states. “Although at the time it was not called Chief Days, the policy is the same as the one in force today.”

Craig is the oldest living Manchester chief and father-in-law of Mayor Craig.

READ THE REPORT: The auditor's report can be viewed below.

When interviewed by a Union Leader reporter in June, Louis Craig — who was chief from 1991 to 1994 — was adamant that the practice did not exist during his time.

“I did not start it, and I never even heard of it until I read it in the paper the other day,” Craig told a Union Leader reporter. “And I can tell you that my predecessor, Chief Tom King, did not start it because I was his assistant.”

Reached Wednesday night, Louie Craig declined to comment on the report’s findings, saying he hadn’t had a chance to read through it yet.

2017 ‘snow day’

According to the audit, Chief Days are awarded to recognize the following achievements:

On Feb. 12, 2017 former mayor Gatsas declared a snow emergency and asked all non-essential personnel to stay home the next day during an “unusually large snow storm.”

According to the audit, 48 ‘snow days’ were awarded to police employees who were considered essential and had to work, including personnel from all shifts worked that day.

“This does not appear to be approved by the mayor’s declaration, city policy or union contract,” states the report. “Only nonessential employees are currently eligible for snow days. A declared snow day is a very rare occurrence, only happening twice in the last 18 years. The department should not be awarding time off unless specifically authorized by the Mayor and/or BMA.”

Report recommendations

The report makes several recommendations regarding the practice of awarding Chief Days including:

Public Safety Labor Manchester Local and County Government

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