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Audit of APS Police Shows Deep Problems

By Colleen Heild
Journal Investigative Reporter
    An internal audit of the Albuquerque Public Schools police department revealed an agency beset by mismanagement.
    Property and manpower were misused, inventories weren't kept, and certain police personnel received extra pay when they shouldn't have.
    The loss to APS in unearned shift pay alone was estimated at about $35,400 per year.
    The audit also found that an APS gun, bullets, money and time were improperly used to train school police dispatch supervisor Cynthia West how to use a weapon.
    Another finding: Hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars were spent investigating a misdemeanor offense of making threatening phone calls to West.
    "I find this very troubling," Superintendent Beth Everitt said after a special APS board meeting Friday.
    Everitt earlier told the board, "This is (on) my watch. I do take responsibility. There should have been stronger oversight."
    Everitt said she planned to turn over the findings to the state auditor and District Attorney Kari Brandenburg.
    The audit was released during a special meeting Friday over the objections of board member Robert Lucero, who argued the meeting should be closed because it was a "personnel matter."
    Board President Paula Maes said the board's executive committee decided to open the meeting "because (school security) is such a crucial issue in these very troubling times in our country."
    The long-awaited report focused on policies and procedures that weren't followed but didn't specify who was to blame.
    APS Police Chief Gil Lovato has been on paid leave since the audit began in early January. Lovato's contract hasn't been renewed for next year. A separate personnel investigation of Lovato wasn't released.
    He has denied any wrongdoing and has threatened, through his lawyer Sam Bregman, to take legal action against APS.
    Bregman on Friday said APS administrators still haven't articulated legitimate reasons as to why Lovato was ousted. Lovato was school police chief for more than 16 years.
    APS board member Martin Esquivel said the report showed "mismanagement and very poor judgment" on the part of the police department's leadership.
    But he also faulted Lovato's supervisors for lack of oversight, noting that the administration received two anonymous letters pointing out problems within the agency months before the audit was launched.
    The letters were sent to Deputy Superintendent Tom Savage and APS human resources officials, but the audit could find no written document to explain what action, if any, was taken on them.
    The APS management response was that the letters were addressed verbally with Lovato, and Everitt said human resources officials will now keep such letters on file.
    "Those in charge of the supervision of the police department should have caught some of these issues," Esquivel said. The department has reported to Savage, who reports to Everitt.
    Everitt said the police department will now report directly to her.
    "I have to have direct knowledge of what's going on," she said.
    Everitt said she didn't believe Savage "turned a blind eye" to the agency.
    "I think he did as good a job as he could have, given the information he received," she said. Not having expertise in police matters didn't help, she added.
    Everitt promised other reforms, saying many had already occurred. For example, West will no longer be assigned an unmarked school police take-home car. A security camera and video recorder Lovato ordered installed at West's far Northeast Heights home have been removed.
    One of the audit's findings didn't mention Savage by name but stated that an inappropriate background check was conducted on an APS employee without justification.
    That finding was in reference to an APS police background check performed on Savage's then-fiancee, who works for APS.
    Lovato's lawyer, Bregman, has said Savage asked Lovato to do the check, which included a check of criminal records even though the woman wasn't accused or suspected of any crime.
    Everitt said Savage told her he merely asked Lovato how to get access to the woman's divorce records, and Lovato on his own pursued the full-blown check.
    West, who has worked for APS for more than 20 years, is still employed as the supervisor in charge of the agency's dispatchers.
    West's attorney, Kari Morrissey, declined to comment on any specifics of the audit but said her client "cooperated fully with the auditors."
    She also said West's predecessor in the supervisor's job had a take-home car.