Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
An Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant who was fired amid an overtime abuse scandal has been reinstated at the same rank.
Jim Edison was terminated in mid-November after internal investigations found he had claimed more overtime hours than he had worked, was untruthful and retaliated against the supervisor who initiated the investigation into him, according to an APD spokesman.
While Edison has returned to the department as a lieutenant, the terms of a settlement agreement he negotiated with the city include that he self-demote in the next several months and undergo an audit of his previous pay records to determine whether he was overpaid.
Edison had led the COVID-19 unit in the department’s Special Operations Bureau since spring of 2020. He coordinated APD’s response to the pandemic, including contact tracing, testing officers and directing them when to quarantine. When he was transferred to the Homeland Security Division, his new commander raised questions about the hours he was claiming.
The collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union – which represents officers, lieutenants and sergeants – states that when officers are called into work outside of regular hours they are guaranteed pay for a minimum of two hours, but an internal affairs investigation found Edison was voluntarily working on his off time.
The investigation found Edison, who had been with the department for 14 years, was frequently claiming two hours or more of overtime for any task he did outside of work hours. For instance, he would send a master spreadsheet of COVID-19 numbers to his supervisor every morning around 3 a.m. and claim two hours of overtime when the actual time worked was routinely under half an hour. The investigator concluded that “overall, Lt. Edison could have combined work or completed (work) during his shift to cut down on overtime.”
It also found that “the department failed to adequately re-address and supervise Lt. Edison’s behavior in January 2021 and February 2021, which allowed Lt. Edison to continue to violate the same and additional policy violations.” Deputy Chief Michael Smathers failed to ensure Edison was correctly coding his overtime hours and failed to identify that what he was claiming was not within department policy. Smathers received an eight-hour suspension and a letter of reprimand.
In March, Chief Harold Medina told the Journal that Edison “wasn’t exactly breaking the law, he was taking advantage of the CBA.”
Edison made $186,944 in 2020 and $173,672 in 2021. In 2020, more than $95,000 appears to be from overtime. Over the course of a year – from April 2020 to April 2021 – Edison made about $224,000, according to records APD provided to the Journal.
Edison appealed his termination and reached a settlement agreement with the city in May. His attorney, Tim White, said he was reinstated “a couple of weeks ago now” and is in the Aviation Department. White declined to comment further but had previously told the Journal that Edison really did work the hours he claimed.
According to the city’s transparency portal, Edison is making $43.20 per hour and has earned more than $50,000 so far this year – a figure that includes back pay.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, did not answer questions from the Journal, including about what measures are in place to ensure Edison’s overtime is being monitored.
“The parties have amicably resolved the litigation and have agreed to the mutual dismissal of all claims against each other,” Gallegos wrote in an email.
Excessive overtime billing has been a persistent problem at APD. Since 2014, seven audits or investigations have examined the issue and found deficiencies in the way the city tracks overtime and corrects officers who may be taking advantage of the system.
In March, after Edison had been fired, Medina told the Journal that he thought the case was an example of an instance where the department had held an officer accountable.
Gallegos did not respond to questions about whether Medina still believes Edison was held accountable.
According to the settlement agreement, Edison threatened to file a lawsuit against the city for wrongful discharge and retaliation based on alleged violations of his civil rights and the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act. Edison denies he committed any misconduct, and the city denies all allegations he had raised against it.
Under the settlement agreement:
• The city withdrew its decision to terminate Edison and removed that discipline from his record.
• Instead of the 120-hour and 80-hour suspension he was initially handed, Edison will serve a 96-hour suspension with 16 hours held in abeyance for six months as long as he isn’t subject to further discipline.
• In addition to the back pay, the city will also pay Edison $20,000.
• No later than Nov. 18, Edison will “voluntarily and irrevocably demote to the rank of sergeant or to patrol officer” and he will not be eligible for any promotions.
• The city will conduct an independent audit of Edison’s pay records from February 2020 through May 21, 2021, and “determine whether his claims for overtime were consistent with the law.” If the audit determines Edison was overpaid “the city will first confer with employee for reimbursement and may thereafter pursue collection of overpaid amounts through appropriate judicial process.” If the audit finds that Edison was underpaid he will be paid as required by the CBA.
• Edison “retains all rights to deny audit findings and to oppose reimbursement for any reason.”