Police Chief Michael Geier has rejected a civilian oversight agency’s recommendation to fire a spokesman who was at the center of an overtime investigation.
However, Geier said, he does agree with many of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation’s findings related to Albuquerque Police Department overtime policies in general.
Rather than faulting officer Simon Drobik – who reportedly violated department policy by billing as an on-call media spokesman at the same time that he was stationed outside a private business through the Chief’s Overtime program – Geier said the policies had to be changed.
“The CPOA investigator identified multiple low-level violations and multiplied sanctions for each instance,” according to a news release from another APD spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos. “In addition, the investigator raised serious concerns about existing policies, yet still recommended outright termination for violating those policies. In fact, the relevant policies had expired under the previous administration, causing inconsistencies and widespread confusion among officers about overtime practices.”
Drobik, meanwhile, has surrendered his compensatory time “in order to repay the department for comp time he earned on days where he worked a Chief’s Overtime assignment or for unauthorized times he ran with cadets.”
Chief Geier has 30 days after the CPOA investigation’s findings letter was released to respond to the board if he disagrees with its recommendation.
Ed Harness, the CPOA executive director, said he had not received anything from APD regarding the investigation.
“I would have expected that he would have informed the board prior to informing the media,” he said.
Officer Drobik was paid more than $192,000 last year, making him the top earner in the city.
About a fifth of his hours were billed through the Chief’s Overtime program, where a private corporation can pay the city to have an officer stationed outside its business. Officers who take part in the program are paid time and a half.
The CPOA investigation found Drobik violated the department’s policy 51 times by billing his hours as an on-call media spokesman while he was also working through the Chief’s Overtime program.
It also faulted his supervisor, referred to only as “Lt. M,” who approved Drobik’s schedule and recommended that he be dismissed as well.
In response, Geier said he will “end the overlap between Chief’s overtime, on call time and comp time accrual.”
The news release does not address discipline of “Lt. M,” and Gallegos said the chief was reviewing that case separately.
The department’s overtime policies underwent an independent audit in 2016 but several of its recommendations were not implemented, Gallegos said. The 2016 audit did not address the Chief’s Overtime program, according to the CPOA investigation.
Gallegos said in 2017 the department’s overtime, compensatory time and work shift designation policies were scheduled to be updated but weren’t.
“The policy was not completed by the previous administration,” Gallegos said. “I do not know why.”
Chief Geier said the overtime system was based on 2015 policies and procedures and contained “loopholes and contradictions.”
“Exceptions were made over years to deal with massive understaffing. As a result, many officers used those exceptions as opportunities to earn more money,” Geier said. “We are moving away from what was essentially an ‘honor system’ and forward with a plan to modernize overtime at APD and clean up the process. As we continue to hire more officers, the time is right to fix this problem and ensure accountability.”
Geier had removed the monthly overtime cap in 2018 but reinstated it in January 2019.
As for Drobik, Gallegos said he will be able to perform field duties, and his role as spokesman has yet to be determined.
“Chief Geier is placing Officer Drobik on administrative assignment, requiring him to report directly to the Deputy Chief of Staff,” Gallegos said. “This will enable APD administration to monitor Officer Drobik’s use of time and ensure a balance between duties related to communications and duties related to field work.”
The department will also review the spokesman position and develop a plan to get additional officers to take on Drobik’s media responsibilities.
“The department’s commitment to revamping the overtime policy reflects that the particular personnel issue was just the tip of iceberg; their efforts should bring needed accountability to the overtime system, decentralize our PIOs to better align with community policing, and still ensure that our officers have the flexibility to provide the protection our community needs,” Mayor Tim Keller said in the news release.