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Editorial: Firing officer won’t fix APD overtime accounting

The Civilian Police Oversight Agency’s investigation into an Albuquerque police officer’s pay has resulted in the CPOA recommending that officer Simon Drobik and his unnamed supervisor be fired for various time sheet transgressions.

Simon Drobik

Rather than drop the hammer so quickly on two individuals, department officials should follow the CPOA’s recommendation to scrutinize current policies and practices – and the extent of violations of such. Then they should demand repayment of excess earnings and determine disciplinary action for all those involved.

Drobik earned $192,973 in 2018 – more than any other city employee. The committee believes that some of Drobik’s earnings were obtained inappropriately because he was accepting overtime assignments during time frames when he was on call in his capacity as a spokesman to the media. According to APD’s standard operating procedure, officers aren’t allowed to accept overtime shifts if they are also on call.

The overtime in question wasn’t extra hours on a normal shift; Drobik was working “chief’s overtime,” a practice in which private organizations pay the city to have an officer stationed at their business or directing traffic. That means at least some of the money he earned during those assignments was reimbursed from private entities.

That’s not an excuse for Drobik or his supervisor ignoring SOP or his timesheet kerfuffle, of course; at the heart of APD’s policy is the fact that nobody can be in two places at once, nor should they be paid as if they were. Either the taxpayer or the private entity is getting the short end of the stick.

In one particularly problematic incident, Drobik was stationed at Target for chief’s overtime but left after being called in when a suspect shot at police in a tense situation that turned into a SWAT standoff. It’s in question if he was paid for both his spokesman duties and being at Target.

No one questions Drobik’s work ethic or his job performance. But the committee said Drobik might not be the only one with a problematic time card. And the decision to get rid of the cap on overtime when there was a severe shortage of officers may have muddied the issue.

APD leaders must put in the work to figure out how widespread the policy violations are and whether policies need to be changed – because nobody should be paying for an officer who isn’t there.

APD needs to investigate thoroughly, then be able to give a rigorous accounting of where officers are deployed and who is paying them, including Drobik and his supervisor. The community needs answers. Scapegoating simply isn’t the way to get them.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.