Schenectady County

Absent officer out for month

City Police Officer Dwayne Johnson was suspended without pay Thursday while the department investiga

City Police Officer Dwayne Johnson was suspended without pay Thursday while the department investigates the extent of his absences during his overnight patrols.

Johnson will be off the job without pay for a month, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.

After 30 days, Johnson may remain off duty with pay if the investigation is continuing. Generally, the department keeps officers on suspension until investigations are concluded; the union contract mandates that officers must be paid after the first month off.

Bennett said he believes it will take well over a month to finish the investigation into Johnson’s absences. Also under review are the supervisors who did not notice them and the officers who may have tipped him off when internal affairs attempted to catch him in the act early last Tuesday.

The investigation will center on Johnson spending several hours each week in an apartment in the Woodlawn section of the city when he was supposed to be on patrol.

“I do not think [one month] will be enough time,” Bennett said of the investigation. “We are expediting it. The sooner we get this resolved, the better it will be for everybody.”

Bennett added that the suspension is not a punishment. However, the decision will hurt Johnson’s income far more than the penalty that Corporation Council L. John Van Norden had said was likely. Van Norden had said the worst punishment Johnson could get was a fine equal to the amount of money he earned for hours that the city can prove he did not work. That would likely have added up to less than $1,000.

A month without pay will cost Johnson about $12,489. He gets paid $4,421 per month in base pay but typically earns $8,068 more in overtime each month, according to his 2008 income.

Bennett said that Johnson may face further punishment when he returns to work.

“This is not a matter of final discipline,” Bennett said. “He is suspended pending further investigation. We have the right to do that and we felt it was in the best interests of the agency.”

Johnson has been observed leaving his beat for several hours on Tuesdays, generally from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. or later. A Daily Gazette reporter and other witnesses saw him park his marked patrol car on Sir Benjamin Way and enter an apartment at the corner of Queen Philomena Boulevard and Sir Benjamin Way, where he remained for several hours. GPS data from his cruiser confirmed at least two of the absences, Police Chief Mark Chaires said, and investigators plan to pull all GPS data for the past three months to determine how often he was away from duty during his overnight patrol shift.

Bennett does not yet know what Johnson was doing in the apartment. He does not live at the apartment. He resides with his wife and four daughters near Central Park.

many double shifts

Some officers have suggested that Johnson was sleeping, exhausted after working several double shifts in a row. Johnson nearly tripled his salary by working double shifts last year. Until his suspension, he had been working the same intense schedule this year. Some officers, who spoke anonymously, say everyone who works long shifts takes naps, beginning at lunchtime. They argued that an unspoken rule in the department allows napping to continue after lunch as long as police get up as soon as they get a call.

Bennett said officers must patrol the city even when they have no calls. Even during their lunch break, they cannot sleep.

“Like anything else, lunch can be interrupted [by an emergency] so they must be alert,” Bennett said. “The purpose of an authorized lunch hour is to have lunch. That’s the sole purpose of it.”

He added that he’s sure the police union cannot claim that napping is allowed even if some supervisors have allowed it.

Union President Robert Hamilton did not return calls seeking comment, but the union often surprises city officials by claiming “past practice” for rules that were never officially approved. According to the union, once rules become regularly approved by low-level supervisors, the rules cannot be eliminated without union approval.

Bennett said he’s prepared for that argument.

“If someone had the absolute and unmitigated gall to call [napping] a past practice, well, supervisors do not have that kind of authority to authorize that,” he said.

Chaires added later that no matter how many officers have napped in the past without penalty, Johnson can still be punished. “It doesn’t matter how many times it was done,” Chaires said. “That’s like a 5-year-old who, when you catch him, says, ‘Everybody’s doing it.’ That’s not the point. The point is, you’re not supposed to do it.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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