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Editorial: Let’s hope 3 really is the charm for APD overtime reforms

Remember back in November 2018 when then-Albuquerque Police Department spokesman officer Simon Drobik had made almost $170,000 thanks to overtime – $30K more than the chief – and Mayor Tim Keller’s administration vowed to take a deep dive into police overtime pay?

And then in April 2019 when a complete year of pay stubs revealed Drobik raked in a total of $192,923 in 2018 for somehow working in two places at once – spokesman on the scene and cop doing private security? The Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation that found he violated OT policies more than 50 times in 2018? The APD leadership vow to reform its OT policies and eliminate any possible overlap?

And then in July this year when Drobik suddenly retired after raking in $106,607 in less than six months and state Auditor Brian Colón and Attorney General Hector Balderas joined forces to order a special audit into APD overtime?

Well, it’s two years late and tens of thousands of dollars short, but APD finally admitted last week that Drobik was “gaming the system” this year, and his supervisors allowed it.

And APD reiterated it will reform its overtime system via a pilot project as a draft policy is reviewed.

Forgive us if we point out we’ve heard this before. Counting a plan last August and one in May, this is the third iteration of APD overtime reform.

It must be noted that Drobik’s attorney, Sam Bregman, says the claims against his client are “absolutely false” and 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. APD is now trying to throw him under the bus.”

Bregman has promised a court fight because “this is actually just a cover-up on the part of this administration for their structural inaccuracies in the police department.”

The city’s lag on reforms doesn’t hurt that argument.

Because while the Drobik case is upsetting – APD’s internal affairs investigation found his actions amounted to potential criminal fraud – the larger question is how extensive is overtime abuse in APD? Colón said last week “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. … It is fair to say that we still have work to do … and it may not be limited to one officer.”

Taxpayers, as well as all sworn officers who play by the rules, deserve answers. In the meantime, they will have to rely on the latest list of reforms, which while belated are promising. They include requiring approval of almost all overtime from a commander or above, auditing 30% of all chief’s overtime forms, releasing overtime reports to leadership regularly, minimizing comp time and instituting stiffer sanctions for overtime violations. APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers says they build on findings from the Drobik and Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigations. “We’re trying to learn from mistakes of the past, trying to make sure that we are excellent stewards of overtime dollars.”

It’s just unfortunate it’s taken the Keller administration and APD brass two years to try to do that.

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.