Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett’s reaction, upon hearing that one of his police officers spent two hours last Saturday watching his son bowl in Scotia rather than patrol the streets of Schenectady, was disappointing. Bennett did get off an amusing response about how he was sure the officer, Thomas Disbrow, was “doing a great job deterring crime at the bowling alley [in Scotia]” ... but we’re looking for him to make his presence known in the city of Schenectady, where the people, frankly, are paying his salary.” But where was the anger, the quick, decisive action that was called for from a commissioner who has vowed to bring discipline and control to a department that badly needs both?
It was revealing how casual Disbrow was, how unapologetic, when approached by a Gazette reporter at the alley. He saw no problem being in Scotia cheering on his son when he was supposed to be working in Schenectady; after all, he said, he had his police radio in hand and could be back in the city in five minutes if summoned. But, of course, being a cop is about more than hanging around waiting to be called; it’s riding around in your patrol car deterring crime, looking for signs of trouble, and, ideally, getting out of the car, walking and talking to people on the street. None of which can be done from a Scotia bowling alley.
It’s also revealing that Disbrow would do this with the heightened scrutiny Schenectady police are under these days, from both the public and supposedly their own administration, after so many scandals. This didn’t just happen once, either; apparently Disbrow has been watching his son bowl on Saturdays for months. Usually when an officer, or anyone else, is caught doing something wrong, it isn’t the first time. And in this department, with its culture of disdain for rules and management, if one is doing something, there’s a good chance others are, too. In fact, a January Albany Times Union report, that Bennett was investigating four officers for routinely being at a gym and a diner when they were supposed to be working, suggests this practice goes way beyond Disbrow.
Fortunately, help appears to be on the way for this particular problem, in the form of GPS units the department plans to install in police cars. Besides reducing response times by allowing dispatchers to see where cars are at all times, the units will make it easier to catch officers who are not where they are supposed to be, or doing what they are supposed to do. That is, unless they find a way to turn off or otherwise defeat the units, which they were doing with their on-board video cameras until Bennett threatened disciplinary action. He should do the same here. And he should take disciplinary action against Disbrow now.