On Monday July 13, New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon said his office was ordering a special audit of APD’s overtime payment policies to APD Police Officers. On July 13, APD announced that on Friday, July 11, longtime APD spokesman Sgt. Simon Drobik abruptly retired from the department and that APD’s Internal Affairs was in the process of completing an investigation into the large amounts of overtime Drobik had claimed so far this year. In 2018, Drobik was paid $192,973 as a result of massive amounts of overtime claimed and he was continuing his pace of overtime pay in 2020.
Auditor Colon ordered a special audit of all APD overtime policies after he said his office found enough red flags related to overtime practices and internal controls at the department. According to the June 24, 2020 letter to Mayor Tim Keller, the Office of the State Auditor is designating the City for a special audit “in order to examine the City’s compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures.” It is an audit that must be paid for by the city with a selection of a firm from a list of firms authorized to do financial audits under a state contract. In announcing the audit, Auditor Colon had this to say:
Colon had this to say:
“For anybody in leadership in any law enforcement agency to say that the overtime process is confusing, that is a problem. That is a clear indication that we have lack of clarity from the top. … We are not investigating just one transaction or just one individual. In fact, we are going to be evaluating the process, procedures, protocols and oversight to ensure there is not any abuse in the system.”
NM AUDITOR ASKS NM ATTORNEY GENERAL TO JOIN PROBE OF APD OVERTIME ABUSE
On July 15, the following Associated Press story was reported in the “Washington Times”:
“New Mexico’s state auditor is seeking an investigation into what he calls potential criminal activity around overtime abuse within Albuquerque police.
State Auditor Brian Colón said Wednesday he asked New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to join him with a probe into the state’s largest police department amid accusations of abuse.
Without giving details, Colón also said he has designated the city of Albuquerque for a special audit to examine the allegations.
“Together, we intend to determine what is really happening at the Albuquerque Police Department,” Colón said. “We will collaborate, bringing our respective strengths and skills to this investigation, to ensure no stone is left unturned.”
Colón said the city has [not] acted swiftly and transparently, despite calls from its own Civilian Police Oversight Agency to take action.
“The city of Albuquerque has continually failed to hold APD accountable,” Colón said.
A spokesman for Albuquerque police did not immediately return an email.
Records show that some Albuquerque officers who collect overtime pay are among the highest-paid city employees. Critics have charged that these officers abuse the overtime system and take the hours from others.”
The link to the Washington Times article is here:
Colón asked the attorney general to assign special agents to work with his office’s auditors on its Albuquerque Police Department examination. Balderas for his part had this to say in a written statement:
“We have received the Auditor’s request and have assigned law enforcement to assist in this matter,” Balderas said in a written statement.
Matt Ross, a spokesman for Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement:
“COVID-19 created a huge need for extra officer hours and exacerbated long-standing overtime problems at APD.”
Ross added that the city appreciates the auditors and welcomes help with changes already underway to fix APD’s “broken system.”
At the same time, APD says it is also running its own Internal Affairs investigation into overtime-related issues.
HISTORY OF APD OVERTIME PAY ABUSE
Police officers earning excessive overtime is nothing new. It has been going on for years and is very common knowledge amongst city hall employees and city hall watchers.
On July 15, the online news ABQReports published an article investigated and written by editor Dennis Domrzalski and Charles Arasim entitled “APD overtime madness; exceeds OT budget by $39 million in last 13 years”.
According to the article:
“In the past 13 years APD has exceeded its overtime budget by a total of $39 million, according to the City Council staff. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, APD overspent its OT budget by an astounding $7.1 million. And the year before, the department broke its OT budget by $8.4 million.
Here’s another way to look at it. Since 2008, APD has spent a total of $152.2 million on overtime. In FY 2020, which just ended, APD spent $17.1 million, or 8 percent of its $210 million operating budget, on overtime.”
This isn’t the first time that APD has been under fire for sloppy overtime practices. In 2014 an audit by the city’s Internal Auditor found that APD had no system to control its court overtime costs.”
The link to the May 8, 2014 audit is here:
And in 2017, another city audit found that APD exceeded it FY2016 overtime budget by $3.9 million.
The link to the March 17, 2017 audit is here:
Last year, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency recommended that … Simon Drobik be fired for violating APD policies 51 times in a year in which he made $192,000 as a basic cop. APD Chief Mike Geier rejected the CPOA’s recommendations and refused to even discipline Drobik for violating department policies 51 times in a single year.”
EXCESSIVE OVERTIME PERVASIVE WITHIN APD
During the last 9 years, the Albuquerque Police Department has consistently gone over its overtime budget by millions. In fiscal year 2016, APD was funded for $9 million for over time but APD actually spent $13 million. The March 17, 2017 city internal audit of APD’s overtime spending found police officers taking advantage of a system that allows them to accumulate excessive overtime at the expense of other city departments.
The City maintains a list of the 250 top city hall wages earners and what they are paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year. The City of Albuquerque recently updated the list for the year 2019. The list starting with the most paid at $193,666.40 to the least paid at $107,885.47, with many being paid 2 and 3 times their base pay.
There were 32 APD Lieutenants in the list of 250 top paid employees in 2019 earning pay ranging from $108,031 to $164,722. Hourly pay rate for APD Lieutenants is $40.00 an hour or $83,200 yearly. These positions are classified employee and are permitted to be part of the police union and as such are entitled to be paid time and a half for overtime worked under the union contract.
There were 32 APD Sergeants in the list of 250 top paid employees in 2019 earning pay ranging from $109,292 to $193,666. Hourly pay rate for APD Sergeants is $35 an hour, or $72,800 a year. These positions are classified employee and are permitted to be part of the police union and as such are entitled to be paid time and a half for overtime worked under the union contract.
There were 70 APD patrol officers first class, master, senior in the list of 250 top paid employees in 2019 earning pay ranging from $108,167 to $188,844. Hourly pay rate for Patrol Officers is $29.00 an hour to $31.50 an hour depending upon years of experience. These positions are classified employee and are permitted to be part of the police union and are paid time and a half for overtime worked under the union contract.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What is so very damn pathetic is when Mayor Tim Keller’s spokesman tries to blame what happened on the COVID-19 virus crisis and says:
“COVID-19 created a huge need for extra officer hours and exacerbated long-standing overtime problems at APD.”
The truth is the City and State did not get hit hard with the COVID-19 virus until mid February of this year. Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier knew full well what was going on with the overtime abuse well over a year ago and they simply did not give a damn. The top paid 250 city hall employees for all of 2019, when COVID was Europ’s problem, had 160 police officers earning $107,000 to $198,000 a year.
There were news stories after news stories about APD Spokesman Simon Drobik being the number one paid city hall employee at $200,000 a year, yet Mayor Keller and Chief Geier looked the other way. Mayor Tim Keller for his part deflected repeatedly saying APD was working on the problem and was committed to reforming the overtime programs, but never said anything about Drobik. Chief Geier for his part dragged his feet on implementing a “25 hour” a week on overtime, and the abuse still went on and on and on.
APD’S SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT
You would think that APD and its management over the years, would have learned its lesson after all the prior audits, but they did not and greed once again got the better part of Albuquerque’s finest. The fact that APD management did not learn anything from prior audits is a reflection of “self-entitlement” that seems to be ingrained in APD’s DNA at all levels, management and rank and file.
A historical and prevailing philosophy by police is that in order to be able to do their jobs, they need total autonomy from civilian oversight and free from any and all interference by civilians. Police departments want to be an “island unto themselves” and act that way too many times when it comes to their budgets and overtime and demands made upon the public for more and more compensation and benefits.
Overtime pay abuse is just one example of the attitude of self-entitlement by APD, its command staff and rank and file. When APD exceeds its overtime budget, it is always to the detriment of other city departments and other city employees, many who work just as hard as a police officer, but that does not matter to police. Their attitude is that they are the one’s that take their life’s into their hands every day and for that reason alone are entitled to be paid overtime as they see fit and anytime they want it. The additional funding must be found somewhere else, either by taking it from other departments and programs, budget cuts or cost saving measurements in other city departments.
Another pervasive attitude expressed by sworn police is that it’s all “the politician’s fault”. It has been said that “police can no longer move without a politician telling them how to do their jobs”. The APD Union are always making demands for more personnel, more equipment, more training and increases in salary and longevity pay, and always demands for more overtime in the department budget.
Another line of attack made by police when any elected official, such as Auditor Brian Colon or Attorney General Hector Balderas, call for oversight and accountability is that it’s just another politician trying to score points as they run for office. Actions and even criticism by “politicians” and the media are often problematic and resented by police. What law enforcement seem to fail to understand is that is what is called civilian oversight. It is the elected officials, the politicians, who are ultimately held accountable for what cops do and what the police budgets are.
The philosophy of management of police departments and their budgets must be that “uniforms report to suits” similar to the United States Military where the President as a civilian is the Commander In Chief who also appoints a Secretary of Defense. It also the voters who must hold and demand accountability from both the police and the elected official in that it is the taxpayer that ultimately pays for police misconduct which would include overtime abuse by police.
IRONY OF THE 3 AMIGOS CROSSING PATHS
It’s ironic that the Mayor Tim Keller, the former New Mexico State Auditor who made a name for himself as a crusader against waste fraud and abuse of taxpayer money, and used that reputation to become Mayor, chose to ignore the prior audits of APD overtime abuse. What is even more ironic is that Keller will now have to pay attention now that Auditor Colon has brought in Attorney General Hector Balderas, with the threesome of Keller, Balderas and Colon having all served as State Auditor. The fact that Keller and Colon ran against each other for Mayor is also not lost on anyone in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon has shown that he understands and appreciates the limitations of his office by asking Attorney General Hector Balderas to assist with the probe of APD for any and all overtime abuse by APD. Auditor Colon is commended for making the decision. The authority of the State Auditor is that of performing audits for waste, fraud and abuse involving taxpayer money. However, the State Auditor does not have any authority to prosecute for criminal acts uncovered by the audits and the Auditor’s office needs to rely on the Attorney General of the District Attorneys to bring criminal prosecutions for fraud discovered.
UNDERSTANDING THE LIMITATIONS OF OFFICE
A choice State Auditor did have was to transmit the audit to Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez because if the audit uncovers criminal activity by APD, it means it occurred in Bernalillo County. It is more likely than not giving the case to Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez would be a waste of time because he would decline prosecution of any APD Police Officer declaring a conflict because his office works so closely with APD.
Once the special audit is completed, State Auditor Brian Colon will be able to smoothly transfer the full audit to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Once the audit is transmitted to Attorney General Balderas, a special grand jury needs to be convened to determine what criminal charges, if any, should be filed.
No Mayor wants to be face with the prospect that criminal activity is found within a Police Department they are supposed to oversee and manage. No doubt Mayor Tim Keller realizes if APD is hit with indictments of waste, fraud and abuse for overtime time fraud, it will likely add another obstacle to his re-election chances along with the skyrocketing violent crime rates Keller promised to bring down when he ran in 2017.
A LINK TO A RELATED BLOG ARTICLE ON CITY’S SKYROCKETING CRIME STATISTICS IS HERE: