Proving rumors false at midnight
It seems like the most time-consuming part of my job is chasing down rumors that turn out to be false.
I spent a lot of time thinking about that late last night while I was pretending to be a customer at the Brandywine Avenue Hess.
It was midnight. I could have been sleeping. Instead, I was standing ten people back in a line that stretched to the far end of the store, trying to get a good look at the nametag of the police officer behind the counter.
This tip had the flimsiest of bases — a source called me to say that a friend of a friend had seen Officer Dwayne Johnson working, in uniform, at the Hess.
Now, I certainly don’t care where Johnson is working while on paid suspension from the police department. But it seemed odd that he would be seen in his police uniform, given that the DA’s office is investigating him. A police uniform implies that the wearer is an official officer — not a man who is currently banned from the police department and facing termination.
I checked with Chief Chaires and confirmed that officers can’t wear their uniform while on suspension.
But when I asked my source where he got this tip, I was instantly dubious. A friend of a friend? These never turn out to be true.
Still, I would never have believed that Johnson was working at the Hess while claiming to be working those hours for the city. I particularly would never have believed it from a drug dealer. But that’s who gave me the first tip on that story, and now the police chief says it’s true.
So at midnight, the time of the alleged Johnson sighting, I hied myself to the Hess.
Sure enough, there was a police officer there. In uniform. But I could tell at a glance that it was not Johnson. Since I was there anyway, I waited until the line crawled its way to the front so I could read his nametag and make sure he wasn’t anyone else that I should be writing about.
It turned out to be an officer who has not been in any trouble at all, an officer working his off-duty hours legitimately. I wished him a good day and headed home.
It’s not the first time I’ve been up in the middle of the night to check out a bum tip. A couple months ago, I got up at 5 a.m. every day for two weeks, trying to find an officer who was allegedly hanging out at a Schenectady house instead of patrolling. Eventually, I found him, and settled in to see how long he’d be there. (They are allowed a lunch break, and in many cases tipsters have alerted me to what was actually an officer eating a meal at his home.)
As I always do, I took a photo of his patrol car -- it’s best to take these photos at the first opportunity, because you may not get another -- and returned to my car with a book. I was deep in a sci-fi world when someone knocked on my window.
I looked up. It was my officer.
“Did you just take a picture of my girlfriend’s house?” he demanded.
I grinned sheepishly. “Hi, I’m Kathleen Moore,” I began.
He took a step back.
“I’m just having breakfast with my girlfriend!” he said.
So that was that. (I did check to make sure he didn’t stay longer than allowed for his meal break, and he never did.)
On another occasion this summer, I got a call about two police officers sleeping in their car. I headed out to that one right away, only to discover that they were downstate officers sleeping before finishing their long drive back home. Their city name was painted on their car, but the car had such similar colors to a Schenectady patrol car that even I was momentarily confused.
But for every ten tips that don’t pan out, either because the incident is long over or the tipster was wrong, there’s one tip that’s true. So I didn’t mind being up at midnight last night. And even though I didn’t get a story out of it, I must admit it’s nice when I discover that the police aren’t doing anything wrong.