Lockport police audit complete, no charges expected

An audit into police payroll practices, ordered more than a year ago, is complete, and city leaders say they will release portions of the final report to the public in the coming weeks.

The city Police Board of Commissioners ordered the audit Jan. 22, 2018, shortly after a dispute arose over a $275 overtime pay claim made by former chief of detectives and ex-training Capt. Brian Wentland. Wentland was subsequently placed on administrative leave and later retired.

The audit, handled by the city's former private accounting firm, The Bonadio Group, examined the department's payroll, overtime and procedures. Auditors also examined whether the city was in compliance with its contracts with four labor unions —The Hickory Club (police union), the Civil Service Employees Association, The Lockport Firefighters Professional Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

A final report of the audit was presented to city officials earlier this week.

"We were looking for practices that can be approved," said 5th Ward Alderman Rick E. Abbott, a member of the police board. "We were not being punitive. The intent ... was how can we make payroll practices better."

In November, city officials met with Niagara County District Attorney's office to discuss the possibility of criminal charges stemming from the audit.

However, Interim Police Chief Steven Preisch said prosecutors declined to pursue a criminal case based on the findings.

"We did turn it over to the DA’s office for an independent review, and it came back to us that they declined any prosecution based on the circumstances," Preisch said.

Preisch declined to specify which criminal charges could have stemmed from the audit.

Members of the Common Council are planning to meet with Corporation Counsel Allen D. Miskell in the next few weeks to discuss releasing portions of the report to the public.

The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal previously requested copies of the audit both through communications with city officials and through formal requests under New York State Freedom of Information Law. 

City officials have indicated that the material would not be released until the audit was determined to be "final." 

In response to the newspaper's latest Freedom of Information request, Miskell indicated that Michele Roman's administration intended to wait for the audit to be deemed final before authorizing its release. 

“It’s sensitive material," Miskell said on Wednesday. "We are now looking at what we should release under (the Freedom of Information Law)."

"We're going to meet and redact what we must, not what we'd like to," he later told a reporter.

Miskell estimated the report would be released, with some redactions, in about two weeks.

Abbott and Mayor Michelle Roman also said portions of the final report should be made public.

"Everything that can be shared should be," Roman said.