It’s not just hard to believe but unconscionable, frankly, that Schenectady Patrolman John W. Lewis is still on the city’s payroll.
Arrested four times last year — three for threatening his ex-wife and once for drunken driving — he’s been suspended for months. But thanks to an overly lenient police contract and state labor laws, the city can’t easily fire him and can only withhold his pay for 30 days with each arrest. Thus, for much of the past year, when he wasn’t allegedly harassing his ex or driving drunk, he’s been sitting at home (while the department remains short-staffed) and drawing a nice, fat paycheck. Outrageous!
Lewis is a poster child for the city’s effort to change the way it disciplines bad cops. Rather than the customary method of having a hearing officer make recommendations to the mayor, the results of which are usually appealed to a state arbitrator (with the results often overturned), the city wants its police commissioner to be able to handle the matters.
That makes more sense: The commissioner is the boss, he knows his department, and if he’s to be held accountable for the way it’s run, then let him run it — without interference from pro-labor toadies on the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The effort to fire Lewis will undoubtedly move more quickly once the various legal cases against him are resolved (he was acquitted on one, while the other three are pending). But on the larger question of who controls the police department’s disciplinary reins, the ball is once again in PERB’s court because the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association has filed an improper labor practice complaint against the city.
Rather than try to settle this matter itself, which is sure to lead to an appeal by the losing side, PERB should send it straight to state court. The sooner it reaches the highest one, the Court of Appeals, the sooner it can be resolved, once and for all.