Nearly 100 civilian police officers hired to augment military police on Marine and Navy bases in North 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.
The claw back began in April of 2017 after the Defense Finance and Accounting Services Office (DFAS) discovered an administrative mistake.
Lt. Bradley Ducat is a civilian with the Marine Corps Police Department at Camp Pendleton and says the officers had no idea they were being overpaid for years.
“It is a shock. It almost takes the breath away from you knowing that you have this debt that's held over your head, and this process is been going on for a year now,” Ducat said
The union for the civilian police officers says the problem originated in 2008. It was determined by the federal government that civilian officers at Camp Pendleton and Fallbrook should be paid using a San Diego City special rate table for pay rates rather than a lower special rate pay table the is used by San Diego County.
When the DFAS realized the error, they notified officers they would have to pay back the overpaid amount. Lt. Ducat says for some officers who have been with the Marine Corps Police Department, many of whom are veterans, the amount totals in the thousands.
“I think in some cases it's probably going to add up to, you know, maybe even $30,000," Ducat 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 union that represents the officers 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.
According to officials at Camp Pendleton, approximately 65 police officers assigned to the Provost Marshall's Office at Camp Pendleton were incorrectly being overpaid.
“We stand in full support of our Police Officers and understand how indebtedness can impact their welfare and morale," a Marines 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.“
A Navy spokesperson told NBC 7 that 33 Navy civilian police officers from the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach detachment in Fallbrook were regretfully overpaid due to an administrative error which placed them in an incorrect special salary rate.
“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,” the spokeperson said.
NBC 7 reached out to the DFAS and is awaiting a response.
Lt. Ducat says this claw back is wrong and affecting the department's morale, and he hopes the federal government will do what he says is the right thing and say, “We made a mistake. You all deserve the pay that you were initially were promised.”