Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A city performance audit of the Albuquerque Police Department’s overtime practices and internal controls found four employees accrued more than 2,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2020 – which averages out to a staggering 38 hours of overtime each week. The year before it was two employees who exceeded 2,000 hours.
And in each year two employees made more than $100,000 in overtime.
APD spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said there has been no allegation of fraud against the four officers who accrued the most overtime, and consistently working 38 hours of overtime a week is not always against policy. She could not immediately provide the names of the officers.
The report from the city’s Office of Internal Audit was undertaken in order to determine whether the police department has a framework in place to effectively administer, manage and monitor overtime.
It made several recommendations of ways for APD to improve including that officers who were overpaid be asked to make repayments, that supervisors conduct “spot checks” to ensure officers are working the hours they are reporting, that the department continues to update policies and procedures around the approval and monitoring of overtime, and that the department try to re-negotiate with the police union so that officers can’t consider paid time off as time worked and therefore also get overtime in the same week.
Overtime practices have long been in the spotlight at APD, and an internal investigation concluded last month that the department’s former spokesman, Simon Drobik, had racked up tens of thousands of dollars of overtime and was continually getting paid for work he did not do. He resigned amid the investigation.
The New Mexico Office of the State Auditor has also ordered an outside probe of APD’s overtime practices. That investigation is ongoing.
The amount that the department spends on overtime pay has increased exponentially over the past 10 years.
Salaries account for about 78% of APD’s budget (or $211 million) in fiscal year 2020, according to the city’s audit report.
“Overtime related costs constituted a large portion of total APD salaries paid for both years,” the report states. “Specifically, in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, APD paid $17.9 million and $18.3 million in related overtime costs.”
The department did unveil a number of changes to its overtime practices on Oct. 27 – the day before the performance audit was published – which spokeswoman Atkins said were in response to multiple incidents including the Drobik investigation, a similar investigation conducted by the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, the internal audit and a desire to improve the policy.
Those changes include requiring that “almost all” overtime be approved by a commander, minimizing the amount of compensatory time or “comp time” that can be paid out to an officer, generating regular reports for supervisors to keep track of an officer’s overtime, and doing spot checks on 30% of all Chief’s Overtime forms to make sure officers are working what they said they were.
Atkins said multiple conversations were had about the Chief’s Overtime program – in which businesses or organizations pay for officers to provide security – in response to the internal audit but she didn’t think any specific changes were made in response to the audit’s recommendations.
Reiterating a refrain used again and again by city officials in recent months, Atkins laid the blame on former Police Chief Michael Geier – who was asked to retire in September.
“This is another example of why we needed leadership change at APD,” Atkins wrote in an email. “The former Chief was standing in the way of meaningful change.”
Pay based on schedule
The audit found several instances of employees being paid based on their scheduled hours, rather than those they actually worked.
“The audit identified 64 instances where the number of daily hours reported as worked in the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, were at least 30 minutes less than the total hours paid that day,” the report states. “These instances resulted in overtime related payments totaling at least $4,545. For example, one officer was scheduled and paid for an 8-hour shift, but according to the related CAD report, only worked 6 hours and 58 minutes of the shift.”
In response, the Office of Internal Audit recommended officers be asked to pay back their wages if they were overpaid and regular spot checks should occur to see if officers are really working the hours they are reporting.
APD concurred with the recommendation of repayment if necessary but spokeswoman Atkins said she is not aware of anyone being asked to repay anything.
APD also said when officers are “on-call” they are not logged onto the CAD system and then they are called back to work.
“Some hours that are turned in for OT will legitimately not show up as an incident in the CAD system,” it wrote as a response.
One of the key things the audit recommended was that APD try to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement with the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association so that officers can no longer count paid time off as hours worked – and therefore also get overtime the same week.
The report highlights one case where an officer worked 20 hours of their regular 40-hour week, used 20 hours of vacation time, and then worked 42 hours overtime.
“This officer did not work 40 hours before being eligible to earn overtime,” the report states.
However, in response to this recommendation, APD did not concur, saying, “It is understood by all parties that the APOA has no interest in changing their position on this. No change is expected to occur.”
Atkins said “right now, it’s a part of the contract we have to adhere to. Any changes would have to come from future negotiations with the APOA.”
Approving own hours
Although this appeared not to be widespread, the audit did report one civilian employee used a supervisor’s credentials to approve her own hours and received 282 hours of overtime or $8,830 in about seven months.
The employee, who an APD spokesman identified as the former chief’s assistant Paulette Diaz, and her supervisor – former Chief of Staff John Ross – previously made the news when Diaz wrote a long memo to former chief Geier outlining multiple allegations against Ross, including that he improperly purchased electronics for his own use. An internal affairs investigation later found those allegations to be unsubstantiated.
Both Diaz and Ross are no longer with APD.
Atkins said an internal affairs investigation has been opened into Diaz’s overtime.
The audit recommended APD communicate to its staff that policies prohibit employees from lending their password or user name to anyone. APD concurred with that recommendation.
“This is already codified in policy, any alleged incident is fully investigated and disciplinary action taken if incident is determined to be ‘sustained,'” APD responded.