Nearly 100 civilian police officers hired to augment military police on U.S. military bases in San Diego County are being asked by the federal government to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in wages after it was discovered the federal government had made an error in determining their pay scale.
L. Hall, a father of four, including a 9-year-old with scoliosis and epilepsy.
“He used to have seizures on a regular basis,” Hall said, adding that his son's arms and legs were recently amputated.
Hall makes the journey from his home in East County to Camp Pendleton to work as a K-9 officer. It is a job he has been doing since he left the U.S. Navy several years ago.
He and 92 other civilian police officers working at Camp Pendleton and on a naval station in Fallbrook are facing big bills after a clerical error by the U.S. Navy Office of Civilian Human Resources (CHR).
The error was made in 2008 when the force was implemented to assist military police. The CHR used the wrong pay scale and put in data from a pay table with rates for the City of San Diego not the county, an error the officers were unaware of when they excepted offers to work there.
When the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) Office discovered the error, they notified officers they would have to pay back the overpaid amount.
For some officers who have been with the U.S. Marine Corps Police Department, many of whom are veterans, the amount totals in the thousands.
On March 14, DFAS began sending letters to officers notifying them of how much money they need to repay for the overpayment beginning a decade ago.
“I'm looking at $40,000 to pay back if my debt waiver is not waived,” Hall said.
It was apparently discovered last year when an officer transferred bases, said Lt. Brad Ducat.
Ducat, a Marine veteran, is a supervisor in the department at Camp Pendleton and owes more than $38,000.
“It was still a shock even though we knew it was coming," he said. "I think it was just so much more than we thought was going to be."
He said it's a punch in the gut for these officers who are dedicated to protecting the people who live and work on the busy Marine base, responding to law enforcement calls at all hours.
“Unfortunately we have fatalities like any community does, whether it's criminal or not, a lot of car accidents, we have domestic disturbances, which are sometimes very, very violent,” Ducat said.
Not only did the federal government say they were going to ask for money back from the officers, they reduced the pay scale until the officer’s union was able to put the prior pay scale back in place.
According to letters the civilian officers received from DFAS, they have three options: Pay the money back, request a payment plan, or submit a waiver for the entire amount – but there is no guarantee the waiver will be granted.
Spokespersons with the Navy and Marines tell NBC 7 they are aware of the issue and that town hall meetings have been held to help personnel understand what has happened and what will happen going forward.
“We stand in full support of our police officers and understand how indebtedness can impact their welfare and morale," a USMC spokesperson said. "The Civilian Human Resources Office is expeditiously coming to a resolution and will continue to advocate for our civilian personnel to be treated fairly understanding the expectations set forth by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services.“
“We understand this is challenging for our police officers and poses a substantial burden on those who provide a critical service to meet the Navy’s security requirements. Navy Region Southwest is committed to helping the officers through this process and continues to help mitigate the situation to the greatest degree possible,” a Navy spokesperson said.
Lt. Ducat says this clawback is wrong and affecting the department's morale, and he hopes the federal government will do what he says is the right thing.
NBC 7 reached out to Congressman Darrell Issa’s office for comment on the clawback and have yet to hear back.
The civilian police officers have until April 28 to resolve their individual cases with DFAS.
As for Hall, he said his son is a fighter and he will fight too.
“It's just adding unnecessary stress to what we do,” he said.