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Editorial: Civilian police board clocks in vital overtime reforms

It looks like positive change is once again coming to the ranks of the Albuquerque Police Department due in part to civilians APD is sworn to serve.

A recap: in one of its first cases with major public interest, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency weighed in on double-dipping overtime practices. Albuquerque Police Officer Simon Drobik and a supervisor found themselves in the hot seat after it came to light Drobik was working on-call as one of the department’s media contacts at the same time he was stationed outside a private business through the Chief’s Overtime program – and getting paid for both, even if he left one post to tend to the other. The practice, which appeared to violate department policy, was guaranteed to short-change businesses and/or taxpayers while helping Drobik rack up $192,973 in pay in 2018.

The civilian oversight committee raised a number of concerns with current policies, proposed several changes and ultimately recommended Drobik get the ax.

Police Chief Michael Geier

Police Chief Michael Geier

In response to the board’s recommendations, Police Chief Michael Geier has committed to revamping overtime policies, and more specifically, to ending overlap between Chief’s Overtime, on-call time and comp time accrual.

It’s an important indicator this chief listens to this board.

After the committee’s recommendations were released, the Journal cautioned on April 18 that canning one officer would amount to scapegoating for a practice a supervisor signed off on and that may well be widespread in the department. Whether the abuse has been commonplace or not, Geier allowed Drobik, who surrendered his comp time as repayment, to keep his job. Geier is also reviewing the supervisor’s actions.

It was the right move.

And it should in no way discount the input from the committee, which was born out of the chaos of APD’s most troubled years and is an important element of the department’s effort to build community trust. The Civilian Police Oversight Agency ensured the overtime issue got a major sussing out and the public stayed informed. It turns out the largest law enforcement agency in New Mexico for years has been operating on a cobbled-together set of overtime policies borne of understaffing, exceptions, an honor system and half-implemented reforms.

Even though Geier didn’t accept every one of their recommendations, committee members can be proud to have helped initiate changes to make APD more responsible to those it serves. And Geier was right to take their recommendations seriously, pledging there will be no more “inconsistencies and widespread confusion among officers about overtime practices. … 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.”

And that should help ensure a fairer and more accountable overtime system for officers, taxpayers and private entities that contract with APD for security.

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.