The City of Albuquerque’s Internal Audit Department undertook an audit to determine whether the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has a framework in place to effectively administer, manage and monitor the department’s overtime. On October 26, the Internal Audit Department released the performance audit.
According to the audits “Executive Summary”:
“In a sample that included 56 weeks of officer time tested, the audit identified 64 instances of overpayments totaling at least $4,545, resulting from officers being paid based on their scheduled hours, instead of the actual hours worked. In these instances, the hours reported by the officer to Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) were at least 30 minutes less than the hours the officer was scheduled and ultimately paid for.
Additionally, not all officers had CAD reports to support any non-training related hours paid. Specifically, in the sample tested there were 40 days where CADs were missing. Amounts paid related to this time totaled a minimum of $8,635. The Office of Internal Audit also found Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are outdated and not in line with best practices.
While APD has recently taken steps to limit overtime usage, opportunities exist to further these efforts. Specifically, officers are allowed to use paid time off to work overtime which can cause a cascading effect that increases APD’s need for more overtime. OIA compared APD’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) to those of four other similar police departments and found that unlike APD, three of the four other departments do not consider paid sick leave as time worked when computing overtime.
Lastly, the audit found an isolated instance where one APD employee inappropriately utilized the system login credentials of their supervisor, to approve their own time, which included overtime payments totaling $8,830 in fiscal year 2020.”
The link to the full audit report is here:
APD also said when officers are “on-call” they are not logged onto the CAD system and then called back to work. The audit found several instances of employees being paid based on their scheduled hours and not those hours they actually worked.
The Internal Audit report recommended officers be asked to pay back their wages if they were overpaid. It also recommended regular spot checks to see if officers are really working the hours they are reporting.
APD concurred with the recommendation of repayment if necessary. However, an APD spokeswoman said she was not aware of anyone being asked to repay anything.
Salaries account for upwards of 78% of APD’s annual budget of $211 million. According to the audit report:
“Overtime related costs constituted a large portion of total APD salaries paid for … the fiscal year 2019 … APD paid $17.9 million and in  $18.3 million related overtime costs.”
Notwithstanding the excessive overtime paid, the Internal Audit Department made no accusation of fraud. According to an APD spokesperson, working 38 hours of overtime a week is not always against policy.
The release audit found that 4 APD Officers claimed over 2,000 hours of paid overtime, paid at the rate of time and a half, during the fiscal year of July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2020. The names of the 4 police officers were not released by APD.
The overtime paid average was 38 hours of overtime each 40-hour work week or 78 hours a week claimed in hours worked. During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 2 other police officers also exceeded 2,000 hours of paid overtime. The amount paid in overtime to each of the 4 was over $100,000 for more than a total $400,000 paid.
EMPLOYEE USING SUPERVISORS CREDENTIALS
The released audit reported that Paulette Diaz, the assistant to former APD Chief Michael Geier, used the credentials of former Chief of Staff John Ross, her supervisor, to approve her own overtime hours. She received 282 hours of overtime and was paid $8,830 in overtime over a 7-month period. An internal affairs investigation has been opened into Diaz’s overtime.
Diaz and Ross were embroiled in controversy when Diaz wrote a memo to former APD Chief Michael Geier outlining multiple allegations against Chief of Staff Ross, including that he improperly purchased electronics for his own use. An internal affairs investigation later found those allegations to be unsubstantiated.
Geier, Ross and Diaz left APD within weeks after the controversy.
The Internal Audit Department made 4 specific recommendations on ways APD could improve or correct and reduce the amount of overtime. The recommendations are:
1. Officers who were overpaid be asked to make repayments if they were overpaid. APD concurred with the recommendation of repayment if necessary, but no repayment requests have been reported.
2. Supervisors conduct “spot checks” to ensure officers are working the hours they are reporting. APD also said when officers are “on-call” they are not logged onto the CAD system and then they are called back to work.
3. APD needs to continue to update policies and procedures around the approval and monitoring of overtime.
4. The city needs to re-negotiate with the police union so that officers can not use “paid time off” as time worked in a 40 hour week and then work “overtime” in the same week to get paid time and a half.
Links to related news articles are here:
EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
Overtime abuse by APD sworn personnel has going on for many years and has long been controversial and scrutinized. In October, an Internal Affairs Investigation concluded that the department’s former spokesman, Simon Drobik, had been paid thousands of dollars of overtime and was paid for work he did not do.
For successive years, as APD Spokesman, Drobik was routinely among the highest earners in the city. Drobik 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 a year according city records ( $31.50 per hour X 2,080 hours a year= $65,520).
Rather than being fired, Drobik resigned and retired.
DROBIK NOT 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 sworn police.
New Mexico Office State Auditor Brian Colon and Attorney General Hector Balderas have announced a joint investigation of APD’s overtime practices. The investigation is ongoing and involves a number of APD police officers.
RECOMMENDATION TO RENEGOTIATE CONTRAT CHANGES REJECTED BY KELLER ADMINISTRATION
One major change recommended in the recently release audit is that APD should try to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement with the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association so that police officers can no longer count paid time off as hours worked which allows them to be paid the overtime pay rate at time and a half for the same week. The report highlights one case where an officer worked 20 hours of their regular 40-hour week, used 20 hours of vacation time, and then worked 42 hours overtime. The audit points out:
“This officer did not work 40 hours before being eligible to earn overtime. ”
APD Spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins in response to the recommendation to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement said the Keller Administration did not agree and had this to say:
“Right now, it’s a part of the contract we have to adhere to. Any changes would have to come from future negotiations with the APOA. … It is understood by all parties that the APOA has no interest in changing their position on this. No change is expected to occur. ”
CHANGES ANNOUNCED PRIOR TO AUDIT
On October 27, APD announced the major changes to the department’s overtime policy. The Keller Administration hopes the major changes 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.
In October, APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said the changes will go into effect immediately as the formal policy is put through a review process.
BLAIM GAME CONTINUES
Reiterating a refrain used again and again by city officials in recent months, Atkins laid the blame on former Police Chief Michael Geier who Mayor Keller forced to retire in September.
“This is another example of why we needed leadership change at APD. … The former Chief was standing in the way of meaningful change.”
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.
Links to related blog articles are here:
RESTRUCTURE 40 HOUR APD PAY SYSTEM TO SALARY PAY SYSTEM
A complete restructuring of the existing APD 40-hour work week and hourly wage system needs to be implemented. 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 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. 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.
It’s 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.