On October 23, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) disclosed the contents of an APD Internal Affairs investigators that found that former APD Spokesman Simon Drobik committed rampant fraud, possibly at a criminal level. APD accused Drobik of “gaming the system” by working private security at local businesses known as chief’s overtime while he was on regular duty. He is also accused of negotiating his way out of taking service calls and showing up late and leaving early along with dozens of other violations during a five-month period at the beginning of the year.
For successive years, as APD Spokesman, Drobik was routinely among the highest earners in the city and ranked No. 1 among all city employees in 2018 by being paid $192,973. In 2019, Drobik was ranked as the 7th highest wage earner in 2019. When Drobik retired in July 2020, he had already collected $106,607 for the year when his base pay rate was listed as $31.50 per hour, or $65, 520 according city records ( $31.50 per hour X 2,080 hours a year= $65,520).
In the Friday, October 23, 2020 press release, APD implicated Drobik’s supervisor former Deputy Chief Elizabeth Armijo for failure to approve overtime, implicated former APD Chief Michael Geier and implicated former APD Chief of Staff John Ross. According to APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, Deputy Chief of Staff Armijo will be disciplined, although he would not say what that discipline will be at the time. He also said that former Chief of Staff John Ross will not be disciplined in that he was relieved of his position when Geier was forced to retired by Keller, otherwise John Ross would have been disciplined.
NOT THE FIRST TIME ACCUSED OF “GAMING THE SYSTEM”
On April 12, 2019, it was reported that the APD Civilian Police Oversight (CPO) Agency recommended the dismissal of APD Public Information Officer Simon Drobik as well as his former supervisor for overtime pay abuse. The CPOA investigators found that throughout 2018 Drobik violated personnel policies more than 50 times by getting paid simultaneously for being on call as a spokesman and working “chief’s overtime. The CPO Agency investigation found that in 2018, Drobik was paid $192,973 making him Albuquerque’s highest-paid employee in 2018. The investigation also found that his supervisor was one of the city’s top 11 paid wage earners.
On April 30, 2019, then APD Chief Michael Geier announced that he was not taking any disciplinary action against Simon Drobik but announced changes were being made to APD overtime and Chief’s overtime. At the time APD Chief Michael Geier decided that instead of terminating Drobik, he placed him on administrative assignment and required him to report directly to Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo . Confidential sources have also confirmed that then Chief Geier and the Keller Administration contemplated promoting Simon Drobik to a commander position in order to pay him more as a justification for the pay he was being paid as a spokesman.
DROBIK NOT LIKELY THE ONLY ONE “GAMING THE SYSTEM”
At the end of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners. The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year.
Starting pay for an APD Police Officer immediately out of the APD academy is $29 an hour or $60,320 yearly. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $29 paid hourly = $60,320.)
Police officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour or $62,400 yearly. (40-hour work weeks in a year X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $30 paid hourly = $62,400.)
Senior Police Officers with 15 years or more experience are paid $31.50 an hour or $65,520 yearly. (40 hours work in a week X 52 weeks in year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $31.50 = $65,520.)
The hourly pay rate for APD Sergeants is $35 an hour, or $72,800. (40-hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours worked in a year X $35.0 paid hourly = $72,800.)
The hourly pay rate for APD Lieutenants is $40.00 an hour or $83,200. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours worked in a year X $40.00 = $83,200.)
In 2018, the breakdown of the 250 top paid city hall employees revealed that all were paid between $100,000 to $192,937.23. In 2018, there were 140 Police Officers on the list of 250 top wage earners.
In 2019, the breakdown of the 250 top paid city hall employees showed they were paid between $107,885 to $193,666.23. In 2019 there were 160 sworn APD police in the top 250 wage earners with 70 APD patrol officers in the list of 250 top paid employees earning pay ranging from $108,167 to $188,844.
The excessive pay numbers in APD, especially to patrol officers, can be attributed directly to overtime paid to APD employees.
THIRD “OVERTIME OVERHAUL” ANNOUNCMENT
In August of 2019, former APD Chief Michael Geier announced a special order to deal with APD overtime abuse, including placing a 25 hour a week cap on overtime. It turns out that the special order was rescinded a few days later by Geier after the order was issued. The rational for Geier’s withdrawal was attributed to problems in the way the plan was written.
In the wake of the October 23 Internal Affairs disclosures and findings of overtime abuse by former Spokesman Simon Drobick, APD Spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said that APD had drafted a policy for a third time to overhaul overtime practices to prevent abuse and said:
“[Interim] Chief Medina said he will issue a Special Order on Monday to take effect immediately while the policy is reviewed. Unlike previous efforts to reform overtime, this proposed policy will address weaknesses in supervision and increase discipline for violations.”
In May, 2020, APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers wrote a similar order to the first that Geier approved. He said this new plan is “vastly different” and supersedes the second one. According to Smathers, the department learned from the Drobik investigation and Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation in formulating the new plan. Smathers said they cleaned up the language, added “significant sanctions” and auditing requirements on Chief’s Overtime.
On October 27, APD announced the major changes to the department’s overtime policy it hopes will stop APD officers from abusing overtime. Under the new policy all overtime will require approval from higher up the chain from a commander or above. The city will audit chiefs’ overtime records and increase discipline for violations.
According to an October 27 news release, the following 5 major changes to the police overtime policy will be made:
1. Almost all forms of overtime and any exception to normal practice now require a Commander or above approval. This should reduce the instances of overtime being claimed but not worked.
2. In addition, the department has implemented a compensatory time reduction plan. Compensatory time, or “comp time,” has been a source of abuse in the past. This reduction plan will minimize comp time that is paid out once the cap has been met.
3. APD has also added numerous audit functions for anyone approving overtime. To further ensure transparency, the Payroll Department will now release regular reports to help those in leadership keep track of overtime and detect any issues as a warning system.
4. The Chief’s Overtime Office additionally will audit 30 percent of all Chief’s Overtime forms to make sure dispatch records match time worked on the forms submitted for reimbursement.
5. The sanctions for every section of the policy have been significantly raised to equate the sanction for a violation of the seriousness of this issue and to ensure robust compliance.
APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said the changes will go into effect immediately as the formal policy is put through a review process.
APD interim Chief Harold Medina had this to say in a statement:
“Unlike previous efforts to reform overtime, these changes will address weaknesses in supervision and oversight, while increasing discipline for violations. … Supervisors should be held to the highest standards. Only then, will we achieve true accountability for taxpayer money.”
Links to news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALSIS
Police officers earning excessive overtime is nothing new. It has been going on for years and is very common knowledge. 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. Excessive overtime paid is a red flag for abuse of the system, mismanagement of police resources or the lack of personnel.
During the last 10 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. A March, 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.
A city internal audit report released in March, 2017 revealed that the Albuquerque Police Department spent over $3.9 million over its $9 million “overtime” budget. For the last 3 years, APD has exceeded its overtime budget by as much as $4 million or more each year. In 2019, APD spent $11.5 million paying sworn police overtime when the budget was $9 million.
RESTRUCTURE 40 HOUR APD PAY SYSTEM TO SALARY PAY SYSTEM
As an alternative to paying overtime and longevity bonus, 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.
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 2, 3 and even 4 times their base salary and emotional burnout will be the norm, not the exception endangering public safety. Until the APD salary structure is changed, you will also have more than a few employees “gaming the system”. Historically, time and time again, year after year, the temptation to be paid 2, 3, even 4 times more a year to what your base pay is by padding hours of worked is way too great. The overtime “gaming system” has got to stop.
Its the taxpayer and other city employees who are getting hurt when APD exceeds its budget by the millions and when APD management do not give a damn about anyone else but APD. When APD exceeds its overtime pay budget, the money has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is other city departments and other city employees. If Mayor Keller, APD Management and City Council do not realize that APD exceeding it overtime budget in fact causes morale issues and resentment with other city departments and employee who are not paid overtime, they are fools.
One guarantee way of stopping anyone within APD from “gaming the system” would be get rid of the old system of overtime pay and bonus pay. Sooner rather than later, the city and the APD union need to recognize that being a police officer is not a mere “trade” justifying hourly wages, but a “profession” that requires employees to put whatever time in is necessary to get a day’s work done that may arise in that day and police need to be compensated by a decent salary and not hourly wages.
Negotiations for a new APD union contract have been suspended because of the pandemic. If and when the City and the APD union return to the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract, the abolishment of hourly wages for APD sworn and implementation of a salary structure should be the first negotiated item for the new contract.
On November 2, the Albuquerque Journal published the following editorial:
Remember back in November 2018 when then-Albuquerque Police Department spokesman officer Simon Drobik had made almost $170,000 thanks to overtime – $30K more than the chief – and Mayor Tim Keller’s administration vowed to take a deep dive into police overtime pay?
And then in April 2019 when a complete year of pay stubs revealed Drobik raked in a total of $192,923 in 2018 for somehow working in two places at once – spokesman on the scene and cop doing private security? The Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation that found he violated OT policies more than 50 times in 2018? The APD leadership vow to reform its OT policies and eliminate any possible overlap?
And then in July this year when Drobik suddenly retired after raking in $106,607 in less than six months and state Auditor Brian Colón and Attorney General Hector Balderas joined forces to order a special audit into APD overtime?
Well, it’s two years late and tens of thousands of dollars short, but APD finally admitted last week that Drobik was “gaming the system” this year, and his supervisors allowed it.
And APD reiterated it will reform its overtime system via a pilot project as a draft policy is reviewed.
Forgive us if we point out we’ve heard this before. Counting a plan last August and one in May, this is the third iteration of APD overtime reform.
It must be noted that Drobik’s attorney, Sam Bregman, says the claims against his client are “absolutely false” and Drobik “never, ever cheated on a time card. He worked overtime due to being ordered to do so by a deputy chief, and every bit of his time was approved by a deputy chief. APD is now trying to throw him under the bus.”
Bregman has promised a court fight because “this is actually just a cover-up on the part of this administration for their structural inaccuracies in the police department.”
The city’s lag on reforms doesn’t hurt that argument.
Because while the Drobik case is upsetting – APD’s internal affairs investigation found his actions amounted to potential criminal fraud – the larger question is how extensive is overtime abuse in APD? Colón said last week “there is a problem, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it whether it’s an individual or whether it’s further reaching. … It is fair to say that we still have work to do … and it may not be limited to one officer.”
Taxpayers, as well as all sworn officers who play by the rules, deserve answers. In the meantime, they will have to rely on the latest list of reforms, which while belated are promising. They include requiring approval of almost all overtime from a commander or above, auditing 30% of all chief’s overtime forms, releasing overtime reports to leadership regularly, minimizing comp time and instituting stiffer sanctions for overtime violations. APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers says they build on findings from the Drobik and Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigations. “We’re trying to learn from mistakes of the past, trying to make sure that we are excellent stewards of overtime dollars.”
It’s just unfortunate it’s taken the Keller administration and APD brass two years to try to do that.
The link to this editorial is here: