Integrity Matters
January 29, 2004

Front page news (Integrity Matters) Involvement

Salinas police decline offer
Spokesman says cops can't accept any gratuities, must repay city

The Salinas Californian

Is this the time, in the midst of the city's heightened effort to halt gang violence, to demand that Salinas police officers repay $327,000 in overpayment they accidentally received over the past three years?

Salinas Californian "Integrity Matters" columnist Jim Bracher suggested in his Wednesday column that citizens might donate money to cover the repayment themselves in a gesture of community support.

But a spokesman for the officers said they couldn't accept the help.

Bracher, founder of the Monterey-based Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership, said he's gotten positive feedback for his notion of somehow raising money to compensate the city for the overpayment to 134 officers who are still on the payroll, plus an unknown number who have left the department. The overpayment resulted from a 2001 clerical error by city staff.

"There's not a problem here, but there's an opportunity," Bracher said.

"The issue is what should we be communicating about the value of heroes and heroines who risk their lives everyday to keep us safe?" Bracher said.

Salinas police are saying thanks, but no thanks to the offer.

"Police officers themselves cannot accept gratuities," said Salinas police Det. Kyle Kimm, vice president of the Salinas Police Officers Association.

The POA, which is a nonprofit organization, can accept donations. But the organization cannot then pass along money to affected members, Kimm said.

"That would be trying to circumvent the system, and by doing that we might adversely affect (the POA's) nonprofit status," he said.

Also, Kimm said, the overpaid officers are legally obligated to repay the city.
Because the overpayments came from public funds, the affected officers must reimburse the city even if the public attempts to pay the debt for them.

A city official agreed.

"The fact is that the city is obligated to compensate its work force in the manner so agreed upon by the City Council and agreement with bargaining units," said Deputy City Manager Jorge Rifa. "These are public funds, and if there is an overpayment, then we are obligated to the taxpayers to recover that money."

The 134 overpaid officers still with the department are slated to repay the city the unintended raises, which range from $25 to $4,750, through payroll deductions over the next three years. The city is also going to try to recover the money from former officers who have left the department, but doesn't have a surefire recovery method available to it in those cases.

Kimm said offers to pay off what the officers owe, while they can't be accepted, have been "great for morale."

"The bottom line is the officers greatly appreciate the community support," he said.
Donations to the POA, which Kimm is encouraging, would be used to help fund the Police Activities League, which offers after-school youth programs, and other groups to which the POA routinely donates, including Boys and Girls Clubs, youth sports teams and the like.

"We get letters all the time from charities seeking our support," he said. "We could also use some of that money to buy equipment that officers need or that the city can't afford because of budget shortfalls, like armored vehicles, body armor, or bulletproof vests. Something like that could speak volumes."

While Bracher said he hasn't decided how to proceed in raising funds for the department, he said he would let community response guide his effort.

"If the community gets in on this, then I would dearly love to take integrity and put legs on it," he said. "It's something everybody can talk about, but to put it in action is another thing."

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