Chief: Cop 'stealing time'
Johnson, tops in pay, out of car during shift
SCHENECTADY The police officer who nearly tripled his pay through overtime work last year has been in an apartment instead of working for part of his shifts each week, an investigation by The Daily Gazette determined.
Dwayne Johnson, who was the city’s highest paid officer last year with earnings of $168,921, spends most Tuesday early mornings in an apartment at the corner of Queen Philomena Boulevard and Sir Benjamin Way, near Kings Road. Although Johnson is typically scheduled to patrol the city until 8 a.m., he parks his marked police car on Sir Benjamin Way just before 4 a.m. and remains indoors for several hours.
The eight-year veteran of the department was observed by a Daily Gazette reporter and other witnesses as he entered and stayed in the apartment on five Tuesdays in a row this year. The Daily Gazette a week ago reported the matter to the Police Department, which confirmed Johnson’s absence from patrols through the city’s new GPS units. Chief Mark Chaires said Johnson’s Tuesday absences from duty have been recorded by the new units nearly every week since they were installed in November.
Chaires was disgusted to learn of yet another case of an officer not working during his shift.
“Here we go again,” Chaires said. “How dumb can you be? You know you have a GPS in your car. Why would anybody do that?”
The department is investigating Johnson and plans to ask him why he leaves his job on Tuesdays and what he’s doing during that time.
“I’d like to know what is so interesting for three hours on Tuesdays, though we’re not necessarily going to believe what he tells us,” Chaires said. He declined to state whether that is Johnson’s home address.
He added that no excuse will get Johnson out of trouble.
“With a city with our crime problems and our issues, there’s no reason to spend your evening socializing or whatever,” Chaires said. “If you’re not on a call, you need to be out there looking for something or at least just showing the car as a deterrence. We’re not paying you to park it.”
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
The GPS units, which cost $22,000, were installed in every car shortly after another patrol officer, Thomas Disbrow, was caught bowling with his son every Saturday during his work shift. Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said then that the new units would keep such embarrassing incidents from happening again, since supervisors now know exactly where their officers are at all times.
But no one noticed that Johnson parked his car for three hours or more each Tuesday until it was pointed out by The Gazette.
Now supervisors will be required to run printed reports each day and check them to make sure their officers were working, Chaires said.
“Beginning today we’ll do that,” Chaires said on Tuesday. “You hate to treat people like 5-year-olds but basically we’re going to have to do this. It’s a minority of a few that act like 5-year-olds and ruin it so we have to treat them all like that.”
It’s not clear what Johnson does in the apartment on Tuesdays, but the officer logged 75 hours every week last year and had logged 70 hours a week so far this year, according to payroll records.
Other officers who worked similar schedules in previous years say it’s not possible to get through the work week without napping during slow periods.
Chaires seemed to think it likely that Johnson was sleeping. Asked about possible punishments for the officer, he explained that sleeping is viewed as a serious infraction.
“When you’re caught sleeping, we consider that stealing time,” Chaires said. “If you’re going to steal time, we’re going to take it back. It’s a significant sanction.”
Officers are supposed to refuse overtime when they are too tired to work. But Johnson has been leaving his beat during his scheduled overnight shift, possibly exhausted after days of working the morning or afternoon shift on overtime.
City officials, including the mayor and Chaires, have raised a series of concerns about officers who work extreme overtime. They are particularly concerned about patrol officers like Johnson, who are asked to drive for hours past their normal shift and then must make split-second decisions in tense situations. Mayor Brian U. Stratton has repeatedly said that overworked officers are a danger to themselves and others, although command staffers insist they evaluate officers on long shifts and send them home when they can’t function well.
Chaires said he was pleased by one facet of the Johnson incident: Unlike previous scenarios, the GPS devices provide three months’ of evidence to support a disciplinary case.
Internal Affairs Lt. Stephen LaVare said evidence will make the crucial difference between a gentle reprimand and a serious punishment.
“If I’ve got one instance, I’ve got a slap on the wrist,” he said.
He asked The Daily Gazette to hold the story for a week so he could catch Johnson in the act. He set up a sting, planning to watch Johnson and then knock on his door just before his shift ended this morning.
But for the first time in at least six weeks, Johnson did not stop working during his shift, raising questions about whether he was warned of the sting. LaVare had expressed serious concerns about that possibility.
Chaires acknowledged those concerns but emphasized the positive: At least the GPS units provided evidence from the past three months.
“It did work, in that there is definite evidence,” Chaires said.
Johnson has a wife and four daughters. He’s also made notable arrests during his overtime work — last year he apprehended an armed fugitive from New Jersey just after leaving a long shift. He also played a key role last year in calming a man who had climbed a tree and threatened to kill himself.