Schenectady police officer Thomas Disbrow got paid Saturday to watch his son bowl.
For two hours, the officer’s patrol car sat parked on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia, across from the Rolling Greens Bowling Center.
Inside, the uniformed officer spent the morning cheering on his 12-year-old son, who has bowled every Saturday since September in the Junior Program.
A reporter watched for an hour Saturday as Disbrow jumped up and down, boasting about his son and keeping a close eye on scores.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” he said excitedly as his son pulled into the lead.
Disbrow clutched his police radio in one hand throughout the event, and said afterward that he was prepared to leave at any time if he got a call. He was roughly four minutes and 1.5 miles away from the city line.
But the dispatchers didn’t radio him, so he was able to see his son win with a spare on his final frame.
He was not aware that a reporter was observing him, but he made no attempt to hide the fact that he was on duty, and when confronted he showed no embarrassment.
“I’m just across the bridge. I’ve got my radio, I’m ready to listen,” he said Saturday. This week, he did not respond to a request for a further interview.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett and Mayor Brian U. Stratton reacted with resignation to the news.
“No, that’s not acceptable,” Stratton said with a heavy sigh. “We expect him to be on duty patrolling the streets, not parked somewhere listening to his radio.”
He added that apparently the police need to be “reminded” of the expectations for patrol.
“You’re expected to be on patrol looking for things, not waiting for a call to come in,” Stratton said. “It’s a further embarrassment to us if it’s true.”
Bennett said Internal Affairs will investigate Disbrow.
“I’m sure he was doing a great job deterring crime at the bowling alley. Unfortunately he wasn’t being paid to deter crime in Scotia,” Bennett said. “We’re looking for him to make his presence known in the city of Schenectady, where the people, frankly, are paying his salary.”
He said officers cannot leave their assigned patrols for personal business, even if they bring their radios along.
“That may be his impression, but it’s not an acceptable interpretation,” Bennett said. “You can justify almost anything you want, but we make the rules here. The bottom line is this: For patrol officers, the posts are within city limits.”
Bennett also questioned Disbrow’s belief that he could quickly get back to Schenectady if he was needed.
“What happens if there’s a car accident on the bridge?” Bennett said.
He added that Disbrow could have gotten permission to watch his son compete.
“That’s what personal time is for,” he said.
But if he was going to work, Bennett said, Disbrow should have used his time between calls to meet with residents on his beat, check on trouble spots and investigate minor complaints — the basics of community policing.
Union President Robert Hamilton, who did not return calls, has said police are desperate to find time for community policing, but are so busy going from call to call that they have no time for such tasks. He has used that argument to call for increased staffing in the department, while Stratton has said the department needs to get a full year’s work out of every officer it already has.
Bennett said Disbrow’s behavior does not rise to the level of termination. He declined to say what punishment would be suitable, saying it would depend on Disbrow’s disciplinary history.
Bennett has vowed to improve discipline in the department. In his first year, he saw an officer go to prison for smoking cocaine stolen from the evidence locker before Bennett’s hiring. He recently suspended five others while the state attorney general investigates an allegation of excessive force.
Disbrow was hired on Feb. 10, 1994. In 2006, the last year for which data was available, he worked 214 days and took 10 sick days, according to Gazette calculations. At the time, he was working as a school resource officer, making him one of only five patrol officers who had every weekend off during the school year. The other officers rotate weekend duty.
Disbrow joined that rotation when Bennett canceled the SRO program last June, citing a need to have more officers on the street.
The weekend duty didn’t stop Disbrow from watching his son bowl. Rolling Greens employees said Disbrow is at the alley, in uniform, nearly every Saturday. When he gets a call, he leaves and comes back, they said.
He was an attentive father last Saturday, offering encouragement to his son between frames and closely following the action.
When the boy missed a strike, Disbrow hugged him and tried to buck him up.
“You still won. That’s all that matters,” he said.
Last Saturday, the boy finished early, and the family left at 10:53 a.m. Disbrow did not drive his son home; a woman who appeared to be his mother provided transportation.
Then Disbrow drove back to Schenectady in patrol car 15, a traffic division car equipped with the city’s license plate readers. The automated cameras have brought the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue by catching scofflaws, suspended registrations and stolen vehicles. But they only work when the officer is in the car, listening to the alerts from the system.
Disbrow graduated from Hudson High School in 1983. He was a military police officer in the Army from October 1983 to October 1986. He then worked as a corrections officer at the Albany County Jail for six years before being hired by the city.
He’s also a strong bowler. In 1998, he took the bronze medal for bowling in the New York Law Enforcement Games.