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. Colón also asked New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to join him with the probe and Attorney General Balderas assigned special agents to work with State on the Albuquerque Police Department audit examination.
With State Auditor Brian Colon and State Attorney General Hector Balderas probing the Albuquerque Police Department’s overtime practices and with an outside accounting firm ordered to the same, the Albuquerque Police Department says its own related Internal Affairs investigation has been going on for the past six weeks.
APD ANNOUNCES INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION OF ONLY ONE
On Monday, July 13, APD officials said it notified the Office of State Auditor Brian Colón about “suspected fraud” involving wages paid to former APD spokesman Simon Drobik and said that APD has its own Internal Affairs investigation Drobik as it relates to his alleged overtime abuse and “suspected fraud”. The letter to the State Auditor says:
“The dollar amount of the suspected fraud is not known at this time, however, the [Internal Affairs] investigation is ongoing. ”
Attorney General Chief Counsel Matt Baca had this to say on Thursday, July 16:
“[The AG’s office’] has been actively reviewing this matter and received communications from both APD and the Auditor’s office this week related to APD’s internal investigation of Simon Drobik.”
For a number of years, Drobik has been the highest paid city employee. Drobik has a base pay rate of $31.50 per hour, which translates into a yearly pay of $65,529 (40 hour work week X 52 weeks X $31.50 = $65, 520). In 2018, Drobik was paid $192,973. In 2019 he was paid $166, 485. Thus far in 2020, Drobik has already collected $106,607, as a result of overtime pay. Over a year ago, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency demanded the city to fire Drobik for overtime abuses.
Confidential sources are saying that on Friday, July 10, Internal Affairs (IA) investigators interviewed Drobik and confronted him with pay records that showed time card fraud and that contradicted his defense that he was not being paid for both outside work and city work done at the same time. Confidential sources say Drobik stormed out of the IA interview and he tendered his retirement letter the same day.
EXTENT OF OVERTIME SCANDAL NOT JUST ONE
APD Internal Affairs ostensibly is only investigating former APD Spokesman Simon Drobik for overtime pay abuse. It is likely that upwards of 160 police officers listed in the 250 top paid city hall employees will also be subject to review.
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”.
Quoting the most relevant portions of 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:
The link to the full ABQReport article is here:
EXTENT OF APD POLICE OVERTIME PAID
APD has an alarming increase in “classified” positions that are being paid 6 figures pay based on hourly wages. 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.
The increase pay requires you to assume that all are doing a good, great or an exceptional job which is very difficult to justify when it turns out that is not the case or abuse is found. The 6 figure salaries being paid to sworn Patrol Officers can be attributed to “overtime” worked which is very problematic.
DANGERS OF POLICE OVERTIME TO PUBLIC SAFETY
From a personnel management standpoint, when you have a select few that are taking home the lion’s share of overtime, it causes moral problems with the rest. Consecutive shifts or excessive overtime for any police officer can lead to extreme fatigue, emotional burnout and reduce an officer’s alertness and response times and reflexes that can endanger lives and public safety.
Excessive overtime paid is also a red flag for abuse of the system, mismanagement of police resources or the lack of personnel. APD has added approximately 100 police officers last year as a result of increases in pay and an aggressive recruitment program. APD is projected to have upwards of 980 sworn police. The ultimate goal of the Keller Administration is to have 1,200 full time sworn police. Overtime paid by APD should have come down as more police officers were added to the ranks, but that did not happen.
When APD exceeds its overtime budget, it is to the detriment of other city departments and other city employees in that the additional funding must be found somewhere else, either by taking it from other departments and programs, budget cuts or cost saving measurements.
OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS PAY STRUCTURE
With the action of the State Auditor and the initiation of special audit, the City should use it as an opportunity to evaluate alternatives to hourly pay and paying time and a half. The City should do away with APD hourly wage and time and a half for overtime for sworn police and implement a salary structure based strictly on steps and years of service. A complete restructuring of the existing APD 40-hour work week and hourly wage system needs to be implemented, otherwise the problem of excessive overtime paid will not go away, especially when you have a Mayor or a Chief of Police looking the other way.
A base pay salary system should be implemented for all APD sworn personnel. A base salary system with step increases for length of service should be implemented. The longevity bonus pay would be eliminated and built into the salary structure. Mandatory shift time to work would remain the same, but if more time is needed to complete a work load or assignments for the day, the salaried employee works it for the same salary with no overtime paid and a modification of shift times for court appearances.
APD Patrol Officers First Class who handle DWI during nighttime shifts should be required to change their shift times to daytime shifts when the arraignments and trials occur to prevent overtime pay. As an alternative to DWI arraignment, the City Attorney’s Office should explore the possibility of expanding or modifying the Metro Traffic Arraignment Program with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office assisting to include not just traffic citations but DWI arraignments to eliminate the need for APD officers to appear at such arraignments.
Until the APD salary structure is changed, APD will always have patrol officers first class making two to four times their base salary and emotional burnout will be the norm, not the exception endangering public safety. The trend of having more classified APD employees earning such high hourly wage pay does not bode well from an executive personnel management standpoint.
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.
The special audit of APD’s overtime payment policies to APD Police Officers is in fact far reaching and likely involves upwards of 160 police officers identified in the 250 top paid city hall employees. Once the special audit is completed, State Auditor Brian Colon will no doubt give the full audit to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Once the audit is transmitted to Attorney General Balderas, a special grand jury will likely 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.
NM State Auditor Colon Calls In NM Attorney General Balderas To Help With Probe Of APD Overtime Abuse; The Irony Of The 3 Amigos Of Colon, Balderas And Keller Having Served As State Auditor Not Lost On Anyone; Stakes Are Very High For Keller Seeking Re-Election
APD Spokeman Simon Drobik Retires from APD As Internal Affairs Investigates Time Card Fraud; State Auditor Brian Colon Orders Audit; Drobik Not The Only One Paid Excessive Overtime
In 2019 There Were 160 Of 250 Top Paid City Hall Employees That Were Police Paid Between $107,885.47 to $193,666.40 and 49 Were Firefighters That Were Paid $107,885.47 To 148,128.08; Abolish APD Overtime, Longevity Pay; Implement Set Salary Structure; Remove APD Sergeants And Lieutenants From Police Union