How many overtime scandals will it take for the Albuquerque Police Department — and those who investigate it — to end them once and for all?
The accrual of overtime isn’t the issue. The collective bargaining agreement between the city and the local police union spells out the terms for claiming overtime. But the process seems ripe for abuse based on the number of problems over time. We’re at seven audits and counting since 2014, raising concerns. The latest, in August, found that problems identified previously persisted and the city was not tracking progress in addressing recommendations.
And the lack of follow-through doesn’t stop with APD.
There’s the long-festering issue of a since-retired officer getting paid for being in two places at once — at one scene as a spokesman and another as an officer on chief’s overtime, where businesses and/or organizations pay the department for sworn officers to act as security personnel. State Auditor Brian Colón flagged Simon Drobik’s time sheets in 2019 and notified Mayor Tim Keller, himself a former state auditor, that there were issues. Attorney General Hector Balderas has been investigating since at least 2020. Drobik routinely made six figures annually, despite a base pay of $31.50 an hour. His attorney has threatened court action, saying Drobik “never, ever cheated on a time card.” Taxpayers deserve answers from the AG’s Office.
Yet another overtime scandal resurfaced, with two councilors criticizing Chief Harold Medina for his handling of the fallout from a case involving former Lt. Jim Edison.
Edison, who racked up more than $95,000 in overtime pay in one year, was fired in November after Internal Affairs investigations. Like Drobik’s, his attorneys insist he did nothing wrong, and followed standard operating procedures and terms of the CBA; they are appealing his termination and considering a lawsuit. His supervisor, Deputy Chief Michael Smathers, received a verbal reprimand and an eight-hour suspension without pay. Medina told KRQE-TV that Smathers had taken responsibility and “the executive staff, we’re so busy that, to go through the fine details of … time sheets is not something we’re going to be carving out time for.”
Fair enough — but, in the wake of the Drobik scandal, there is no excuse for the chief not being made aware sooner of Edison’s sizable overtime pay in 2020 and 2021.
Medina is now getting a regular audit of top OT earners and has adjusted the chain of command for better oversight. Those are important steps — but this should have been given top priority from the beginning.
At a recent council meeting, Councilor Louie Sanchez, a former APD officer, asked why there isn’t time for Medina to check a time sheet, which he called “the single most important item that you deal with as a police officer.” He asked if an APD employee cannot truthfully fill out a time sheet, “how can they be trusted to enforce the law, write criminal complaints and testify in court?” It’s a fair question.
Medina didn’t attend the council meeting, but responded by letter, widening the chasm rather than building a bridge to common goals.
“Frankly, that approach to the job is the type of culture we have been changing since I have been chief,” Medina wrote. “I want officers’ top priorities to be fighting crime, the quality of their work and their service to the community. I want officers to excel at investigations and produce effective criminal complaints that lead to the prosecution of criminals. … A time sheet, while important … should not be an officer’s top priority.”
Medina stepped into the chief’s role with a history of overtime scandals already plaguing the department. That’s a culture he should be changing. And, as we await answers from the AG (and perhaps pressure from the auditor and mayor), we don’t need Audit No. 8 to prove 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.