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APD: Former spokesman Simon Drobik was ‘gaming the system’

Ex-Officer Simon Drobik

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The onetime face of the Albuquerque Police Department – Officer Simon Drobik – was “gaming the system” throughout the first five months of 2020 and getting paid for work he did not do, amounting to potential criminal fraud, an internal affairs investigation found.

According to a news release from APD, the investigation found Drobik violated several policies as he racked up tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. He would have been fired, had he not retired amid the investigation in July, it said.

The investigation also faulted Drobik’s supervisors, who looked the other way and enabled him to abuse overtime, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos wrote in the news release.

“This investigation revealed structural problems that failed to hold this officer accountable,” Interim Police Chief Harold Medina said in the release. “Supervisors should be held to the highest standards. Only then, will we achieve true accountability for taxpayer money.”

APD sent out a news release summarizing the results of the investigation Friday afternoon, but it did not provide the investigation itself. The Journal had previously requested it under the Inspection of Public Records Act but was told it was not complete at that time.

Attorney Sam Bregman, who is representing Drobik, said in an interview that the news release is “absolutely false.”

“Officer Drobik never, ever cheated on a time card. He worked overtime due to being ordered to do so by a deputy chief, and every bit of his time was approved by a deputy chief,” Bregman said. “APD is now trying to throw him under the bus.”

He said Drobik, who had been with APD for 21 years, had never been disciplined before, was officer of the year in 2011 and last year received a Medal of Meritorious Service for his part in pursuing a man who shot officers in a violent cross-town chase in October 2013. As a spokesman, Drobik appeared countless times in front of the cameras to provide updates to the media about violent incidents in the city.

“If this goes any further, we plan on fighting it in a courtroom,” Bregman said. “And we believe this is actually just a cover-up on the part of this administration for their structural inaccuracies in the police department.”

Multiple violations

Internal Affairs was not alone in looking into Drobik over the past several months. On June 24, the state auditor notified the mayor he had designated the city for a special audit after receiving complaints about police overtime processes and payments, and internal controls within APD.

And APD also asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate potential overtime fraud. A spokesman said Wednesday that the case is “being actively investigated and evaluated for prosecution.”

Then-Albuquerque police spokesman Simon Drobik addresses the media in 2017.(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The flurry of investigations came about a year after Drobik was investigated for his overtime pay by the Civilian Police Oversight Agency. He was routinely among the highest earners in the city and ranked No. 1 among all city employees in 2018 by making $192,973.

Although he dropped to 7th highest earner in 2019, when he retired in July 2020 he had already collected $106,607 for the year – despite his base pay rate being $31.50 per hour, city records show.

In 2019 CPOA investigators found that throughout 2018 Drobik violated policies more than 50 times by getting paid simultaneously for being on call as a spokesman and working “chief’s overtime” – a program in which businesses or organizations pay for officers to provide security.

At that time the CPOA recommended Drobik and his supervisor, identified only as “Lt. M”, be fired.

Then police chief Michael Geier decided not to fire Drobik – and instead placed him on administrative assignment, which required him to report directly to Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo.

The additional supervision appears not to have worked since Gallegos said the internal affairs investigation found from January to May of 2020, Drobik committed the following violations:

  •  Not reporting to duty on time
  •  Not notifying supervisor when leaving post
  •  92 time sheet violations
  •  38 instances of being on-call while working Chief’s Overtime
  •  26 violations of reporting hours worked on chief’s overtime
  •  three instances of leaving prior to end of shift
  •  54 instances of negotiating to not take calls for service

Gallegos said Deputy Chief of Staff Armijo will be disciplined, although he would not say what that discipline will be. He said that had former Chief of Staff John Ross not been relieved of his position when Geier retired, he also would have been disciplined.

Interim Police Chief Medina said in a statement that these kinds of violations happen when supervisors, all the way up to the chief, fail to hold officers accountable.

“We’re cleaning up the mess that was left behind and making real changes so that these kinds of wrongdoing don’t happen,” he said in the release.

Overtime overhaul

While then-chief Geier did not impose harsh discipline on Drobik after the CPOA investigation, he did call for overtime policies to be revamped throughout the department.

Mayor Tim Keller said at the time that the changes should bring accountability and ensure officers had flexibility to protect the community.

In the summer of 2019, then-deputy chief, now first deputy chief, Michael Smathers created a wide-ranging proposal to reduce overtime spending – including by capping each officer’s total number of overtime hours at 25 per week and developing ways for supervisors to see which officers were working the most overtime.

But Gallegos said Friday that APD has drafted a policy to overhaul overtime practices, which will go through a standard policy review process.

“Chief Medina said he will issue a Special Order on Monday to take effect immediately while the policy is reviewed,” Gallegos wrote in the news release. “Unlike previous efforts to reform overtime, this proposed policy will address weaknesses in supervision and increase discipline for violations.”

State Auditor Brian Colón said the IA findings validated his own investigation – which is ongoing.

“My mind is at ease that those resources to do that audit were well-placed, because there is a problem, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it whether it’s an individual or whether it’s further reaching…,” he said. “It is fair to say that we still have work to do … and it may not be limited to one officer.”

Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.

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