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State auditor orders probe of APD overtime

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state auditor has ordered an outside probe into the city of Albuquerque, saying his office has identified “red flags” while investigating the city’s police overtime practices.

Brian Colon

Brian Colon

And now the Albuquerque Police Department says it is doing its own investigation into similar matters, noting Tuesday that its highly paid former spokesman has retired amid the examination.

State Auditor Brian Colón notified Mayor Tim Keller on June 24 that he had designated the city for a special audit to check compliance with relevant laws, regulations and more. In his letter to Keller — a former state auditor — Colón said the Auditor’s Office had “received allegations raising concerns regarding the practices of the City of Albuquerque … related to police overtime processes and payments, as well as internal controls.”

Colón said in an interview Tuesday that his office began investigating APD overtime last year after receiving multiple complaints. His staff’s examination is ongoing but has yielded enough to warrant a special audit by an outside firm, a step Colón described as “rare.”

“In this case, we had enough red flags,” Colón said. “We determined we wanted a full-blown audit that will have the scope of evaluating individual practices and whether or not people in leadership followed the policies and procedures in place to safeguard the city of Albuquerque’s residents.”

APD has its own ongoing internal affairs investigation related to overtime and is apprising Colón’s office of any “potential time card fraud” discovered during the process, department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an emailed statement to the Journal.

Simon Drobik

Gallegos’ statement — sent in response to a list of Journal questions — references APD officer Simon Drobik, a onetime department spokesman, saying that Drobik “submitted his paperwork on July 10 to retire from APD prior to the completion of an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation.” However, Gallegos did not answer questions about whether APD Internal Affairs was specifically investigating Drobik. Journal attempts to reach Drobik on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

His pay has stirred controversy in the past.

The city’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency found that Drobik had violated department policies more than 50 times in 2018 by getting paid simultaneously for being on call as a spokesman and working “chief’s overtime,” a service requested and paid for by local businesses.

Drobik earned $192,973 in 2018, making him the highest-paid employee in city government that year.

The CPOA last year called for the Police Department to fire both Drobik and his former supervisor. The agency also recommended APD set a policy limiting officers to 25 hours of overtime per week.

Gallegos on Tuesday did not answer several specific Journal questions, including whether APD has an overtime cap.

He did say the department “has been scrutinizing the significant amount of officer overtime, especially during the COVID pandemic, to determine whether it is justified.”

Drobik remained among the highest-paid municipal government employees even after the CPOA investigation, city records show. He ranked No. 7 among the city’s roughly 6,000-person workforce in 2019, receiving $166,485 — more than nearly every department director, Albuquerque’s fire chief, city attorney and chief financial officer.

Drobik — whose hourly wage is listed at $31.50 — also has been paid $106,607 since Jan. 1, 2020, according to the city’s transparency portal. The city did not answer Journal questions about how many overtime hours Drobik logged in that time.

Drobik is not necessarily an exception, as police routinely rank among the city’s highest-paid employees.

Last year, APD accounted for 149 of the city’s top 250 earners, including the No. 1 slot — Sgt. Michael Hernandez, who was paid $193,666, according to the city’s online records. Even the lowest-paid APD representative on the list cleared $108,000.

Colón said the special audit — which an outside accounting firm will conduct at the city’s expense — will evaluate whether any APD compensation was “unjust.” He said he is particularly concerned about the “tone at the top” of the city with regard to police overtime and whether concerns raised previously have been taken seriously enough.

“We need to make sure resources in the Albuquerque Police Department are going where they’re going to do the most good and exorbitant overtime that is with a very small handful of officers — it’s hard to believe that’s the best use of resources or the best use of staffing,” he said.

Colón’s office this month issued an overtime “risk advisory” to public safety departments around the state, recommending they review their own internal controls and policies to ensure appropriate monitoring, approval and documentation of overtime.

Keller was the state auditor before winning the Albuquerque mayoral election in 2017. His office said in a statement that APD has ongoing issues with overtime, which it blames on a “long history of poor oversight and accounting practices.” The city cut APD overtime by $1 million last fiscal year, according to Matt Ross, communications director in Keller’s office.

“We’re glad to work with the new auditor to continue making changes to a broken system,” Ross wrote.

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