© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The Midwest Newsroom is a partnership between NPR and member stations to provide investigative journalism and in-depth reporting.

Independence had no limits on overtime and one police officer got paid for 2,800 hours

A police officer stands in a large room filled with tables and chairs with some flags and a large dry erase board. Fresh gray paint coats the walls and a black bar with a thin blue line accent the room.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Acting Public Information Officer Matt McLaughlin discusses some of the renovation work done inside the Independence Police Department on Wednesday. He is standing in the shift briefing room that he described as being "reconfigured and redone" as part of the paid overtime work performed by a officer of the department.

Independence is revisiting its policies after discovering that a police officer made close to $170,000 in overtime pay in 2021, making him the highest paid city employee that year.

Independence, which announced an investigation into how a single employee clocked 2,800 of overtime in one year, set no limits in its city policies for how much extra time an employee could work.

Independence will hire a firm to uncover how one police officer received $169,836 in overtime pay above his regular salary in 2021. 

The officer’s overtime pay was enough to make him the city’s highest paid employee for 2021. For someone to reach 2,800 hours of overtime in a year, they would have to work close to 54 hours each week beyond their regular work hours.

Independence city manager Zach Walker said city policy allowed officers to work as much overtime as a supervisor will approve. Walker said that policy will be reviewed as the city continues to learn what went wrong in this scenario. 

“At a minimum, we’re out $160,000 we didn't need to be out because of the overtime payout here,” Walker said. 

City records show two other officers made more than $100,000 in overtime pay in 2021.

Walker declined to name any of the officers who made overtime pay. City records obtained by the Midwest Newsroom show officer Kevin Nightingale recorded the 2,800 hours of overtime. Much of Nightingale’s overtime was attributable to renovation work at the city’s jail.

A message left for Nightingale was not returned.

Overtime issues

Walker said he was aware there was construction at the police headquarters, which was built in 1970, but assumed the work was being done through the right avenues.

Walker said the jail did need attention and that there had been discussions with now-retired police chief Brad Halsey about the work. However, he said he was under the impression the work would be done by the city’s facility maintenance division, which would have cost the city much less.

“Most, if not all, of that work could have been paid without any overtime and instead just using our on-staff personnel to address that,” Walker said. “That was the assumption on my part that we were using them to complete that work.”

However, while Walker said he only became aware of the overtime spending on Feb. 3, he said his office receives reports on overtime every month. He said the amount of overtime wasn’t caught because he relies on his department heads to authorize overtime in a “moral, ethical and competent” way.

“I am ultimately responsible for the day-to-day administration of the city and for all aspects of our personnel,” Walker said. “The physical limits of being able to oversee every timesheet, every overtime authorization is simply not practical and in fact, I would argue it would be an abusive waste of taxpayer dollars if that’s where my focus was at.”

Walker said only one employee has faced discipline – paid administrative leave – as a result of the overtime revelation from last week, which occurred when a whistleblower alerted city officials. Walker would not name that employee, but confirmed that Capt. Adam Dustman is now the acting police chief. The acting police chief before then was Ken Jarnigan.

No other employees have been accused of wrongdoing.

Details of overtime work

Nightingale logged 21 hours in a single day – Sept. 28, 2021 –  “finishing loose ends on the entire jail,” according to overtime vouchers obtained through a Missouri Sunshine Law request. 

A written notation on the voucher said the work was “per Chief Brad Halsey,” Independence’s former police chief who retired last year. 

The Midwest Newsroom could not reach Halsey for comment on the work.

Throughout 2021, the documents show there were several days in a row where Nightingale would work more than 15 hours of overtime each day on the jail project. Nightingale also would occasionally do police and construction work in one overtime shift.

On one occasion, voucher slips showed Nightingale working two shifts that overlapped one another. On March 20th, Nightingale worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. doing construction work, a 14-hour shift. A voucher was filed for the same day for six hours of work from 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Nightingale was among five officers from Independence’s investigations department that worked on the jail construction.

The other four officers clocked a total of 595 hours of overtime on the jail construction project, working overtime shifts that ranged from a half-hour to up to 14 hours.

Kavahn Mansouri is the Midwest Newsroom's investigative reporter.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.