Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Maybe the seventh time is the charm?
That’s what officials hope when it comes to grappling with possible overtime abuse at the Albuquerque Police Department.
A special audit of the city’s overtime practices recently released by the Office of the State Auditor found that since May 2014, six other investigations into APD overtime practices had been done.
However, it said, inadequate policies and oversight remained. The special audit looked at Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30, 2020.
“The 2014 and 2017 reports had all of the findings and recommendations necessary to fix and prevent the issues reported on in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 reports,” the audit says. “The logical question is – what happened? The findings were clear, as were the recommendations. However, the recommendations were not implemented.”
The report, by Porch and Associates certified public accountants and consultants, says that there was inadequate oversight by the city and that the problem is not limited to APD.
“The systemic cause is that the City did not have a procedure to ensure all open audit reports and unresolved findings were accumulated and worked on until resolved,” the report says. “The City’s Internal Audit Department has started to develop a report that includes all open audits and unresolved findings, but this was not in place during the period covered by this report.”
A spokesman for Mayor Tim Keller said the city is working to address its shortcomings.
In response to questions about why the city didn’t have a procedure in place to track progress, spokesman Babaak Parcham said all administrations track annual financial audits but “other off cycle audits – such as APD overtime audits – did not have the same tracking mechanism in place.”
“The City’s Internal Audit Department, with the full support of the current administration, is in the process of combining them to enable management to better track and address findings,” Parcham wrote in a statement.
State Auditor Brian Colón said his office began investigating APD overtime in 2019 after receiving multiple complaints about it.
Then, in June 2020, APD’s highly paid former spokesman Simon Drobik resigned amid an internal investigation into his overtime pay. That’s when Colón notified Mayor Keller – himself a former state auditor – that he was designating the issue for a special audit.
APD eventually found Drobik had been “gaming the system” throughout the first five months of 2020 and getting paid for work he did not do.
The state Attorney General’s Office said this week that it “is still actively investigating issues related to overtime at APD, including Simon Drobik.”
In an interview earlier this month, Colón said he thinks this latest audit will make a difference. He said an annual audit for the city will look at this issue next year.
“I think the city has articulated that they’re committed to addressing these findings and to embracing these recommendations,” Colón said. “I’ve met with the chief of police, and he has indicated that some of these 22 recommendations have already been implemented. We’re optimistic that as we continue to keep the pressure on we’ll get into a situation where we have 100% compliance.”
The audit found, among other things, that there was a lack of policies and procedures regarding overtime; a supervisor didn’t have to approve an officer signing up to work chief’s overtime – a program in which businesses or organizations pay for officers to provide security – and there were no eligibility requirements to do so; there’s a lack of internal controls regarding an officer taking leave; officers, or the timecard company, are improperly reporting hours.
However, the report says city leaders have said that many of those issues have since been fixed.
In October, APD’s then-interim Chief Harold Medina issued a special order addressing some of the findings. Included in the order is that “almost all” overtime requires a supervisor’s approval, there will be stiffer sanctions for overtime violations and during each pay period a report will be produced of all officers who exceed 25 hours of overtime a week. The department also said it would begin auditing 30% of all chief’s overtime forms to match them to dispatch records to verify an officer worked when he or she said they did.
Now chief, Medina said commanders were just notified of their top 20 earners and asked to make sure everything is aboveboard.
“The overtime problems with APD have occurred since I can remember coming on this department,” Medina said. “So there’s been a lot of people who could have taken action quicker than they did … I do know that it was a priority of ours. We did make the decision to put up a special order as quickly as possible. And we’re also working on auditing ourselves and creating a system where we try to catch things earlier. We encourage that type of oversight within the department.”
Mayor Keller’s office laid the blame at the feet of the former police chief, whom the mayor appointed in late 2017.
“The former chief knowingly covered up overtime abuses and helped his favored employees game the system to enrich themselves,” Parcham wrote in a statement. “The report makes it clear that the ‘tone at the top’ of APD was a major driver of the abuse and the failure to make needed changes. We didn’t hesitate to take bold action to remove the top cop and get the department back on track.”
In response, former Chief Michael Geier disputed that he was at fault and said, “If anybody was proactive in taking action to address the public’s concerns about APD overtime expenses, it was me and certainly not the Mayor or (Chief Administrative Officer Sarita) Nair.”
“To allege that I was inattentive or failed to take action regarding these issues is utterly false and not supported by the record of my actions which show, frankly, the Mayor’s interference with my efforts,” Geier wrote in a statement. “Following my review of the January 18, 2019, Albuquerque Police Department Overtime Evaluation report by the City, I prepared a summary regarding the recommendations and started a plan to address the issues raised in that report. … This plan, which was to be accomplished over 2019 and 2020 was presented and addressed to Mayor Keller’s executive team, including CAO Sarita Nair. … I even drafted a special order in 2019 but approval of that special order was withheld by the Mayor’s office. Finally, in August of 2019, I directed (Deputy Chief of Police) Smathers to summarize the proposed changes to APD’s OT system in a memo to CAO Nair.”