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APD hoping third time’s a charm for overtime

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Police Department unveiled new measures on Tuesday for accountability on officers’ overtime after an investigation found a former public information officer was “gaming the system” to pull in tens of thousands in overtime as his superiors refused to take action.

APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said the changes will go into effect immediately as the formal policy is put through a review process.

It is the third such plan formulated by APD in just over a year.

Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“Unlike previous efforts to reform overtime, these changes will address weaknesses in supervision and oversight, while increasing discipline for violations,” APD interim Chief Harold Medina said in a statement. “Supervisors should be held to the highest standards. Only then, will we achieve true accountability for taxpayer money.”

Atkins said changes in the new plan include:

⋄ “Almost all” overtime – and any exception to normal practice – will require approval from a commander or higher ranking individual;

⋄ A plan to minimize comp time that is paid out once the officer has reached the comp time cap;

⋄ Regularly releasing overtime reports to leadership for scrutiny;

⋄ Auditing 30% of all Chief’s Overtime forms to match dispatch records to time worked;

⋄ Stiffer sanctions for overtime violations.

A recently-released internal investigation concluded that former Officer Simon Drobik – the city’s highest paid employee in one of recent years – violated several policies as he repeatedly collected overtime for work he did not do.

The investigation also found Drobik’s supervisors, including current Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo, looked the other way and enabled his actions.

Last August APD had announced a special order to bring accountability overtime, but APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers said it was rescinded, days later, by former Chief Mike Geier due to problems in the way the plan was written.

Then, in May, Smathers said he wrote a similar order to the first that Geier approved.

He said this new plan is “vastly different” and supersedes that one. Smathers said they cleaned up the language, added “significant sanctions” and auditing requirements on Chief’s Overtime.

He said the department learned from the Drobik investigation and Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation in formulating the new plan.

“We’re trying to learn from mistakes of the past, trying to make sure that we are excellent stewards of overtime dollars,” Smathers said.

Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association President Shaun Willoughby said the plan is another “administrative burden” for APD and the union will be monitoring its implementation.

“I understand that overtime is serious – it’s a benefit, not a right – but you’re always going to have challenges with overtime when you are an understaffed police department,” he said.

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