Schenectady Police Officer Dwayne Johnson’s long hours on the job have placed him in the city’s record books.
With his overtime and other earnings, Johnson grossed $168,921 in 2008, which is nearly triple his base pay of $57,478. The patrolman, who is known for working multiple 16-hour shifts each week, replaced Sgt. Arthur Zampella as the city’s top-earning employee and is now considered the highest-earning police officer in city history.
“To make that much money, you’re pretty much living here,” Police Chief Mark Chaires said of the officer’s overtime earnings.
Johnson’s earnings place him above the previous record set by Police Chief Greg Kaczmarek in 2002. With all of his added earnings included, the former chief grossed $158,981 during his last year in office.
But Johnson isn’t the only cop listed among the city’s top-grossing employees in 2008. Excluding Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, 18 of the 20 top-grossing employees in Schenectady are members of the police force, according to a list released by the city on Friday.
In total, 63 city employees grossed more than $100,000 last year, with all but 11 of these workers falling under the Police Department’s budget. Only Bennett, Chaires and Fire Chief Robert Farstad have base salaries that exceed $100,000.
Overtime was largely to blame for the inflated police earnings. Chaires said the department was understaffed throughout much of 2008, meaning the overtime registered by the top earners was necessary and would have inevitably gone to someone else on the force anyway.
The department was short five officers all last year while officials from the state Attorney General’s Office investigated a claim the officers used excessive force during a drunken driving arrest. All five officers were cleared of all wrongdoing last year but remain off duty pending an internal investigation.
In addition, two other officers were suspended for most of 2008, and two were overseas with the National Guard. Four others were on long-term sick leave and 15 new officers hadn’t completed their training.
As a result, the department was short 27 officers from the 166 officers that it needs to function optimally. Chairs said the shortage of staffing was coupled with a particularly busy year in the city.
“We’re a busy city,” he said. “It’s very important that we have all hands on deck.”
Chaires said the outlook for this year might not be much better. He said the department could see as many as 10 retirements this year, meaning overtime could spike again.
Officers’ salaries were also augmented by retroactive pay raises in accordance with an arbitrator’s September ruling. Officers received a 4 percent raise, retroactive to 2006 and 2007.
In the case of Johnson, the retroactive pay raises tacked an additional $14,626 onto his normal salary.
“In addition to all of these absences and all of these circumstances that have created the need for overtime shifts to keep our city safe, there is still the inherent fundamental flaws in the labor contract,” Mayor Brian Stratton said.
Both Chaires and Stratton said there is a need to reduce the levels of police overtime. Chaires said he’s expecting to issue a policy that will reduce discretionary overtime in the department.
“That’s where we think we can exercise more control,” he said.
They also expressed concern over the effect working long hours of overtime might have on officers. Chaires said Johnson would sometimes work three or four 16-hour shifts in a week.
“I don’t think it’s healthy physically,” he said.
Stratton suggested capping overtime for officers once it reaches 50 percent of their regular salary. But he said such a proposal would never be accepted by Schenectady’s Police Benevolent Association.
“Obviously, public safety is our top priority, but we also have a responsibility to make sure we manage our dollars wisely,” he said.
Lt. Robert Hamilton, the police union’s president, could not be reached for comment on Friday. Hamilton ranked 15th on the list with gross earnings of $129,908, or nearly twice his annual salary.
Despite the high levels of overtime, the Police Department appears to be within its budget for the fourth consecutive year. Stratton said some of the overtime costs were covered through funding from the state’s Operation IMPACT and STOP-DWI grants.
Outside of the Police Department, the city’s top-earning employee was Patrick Tremante, a sewer maintenance supervisor with the Department of Public Works. Stratton said Tremante — a longtime city worker whose $141,296 gross pay is ranked eighth overall — has a lot of added earnings built into his job detail.
“We’re going to try and restructure that [when Tremante retires], just as we did with the police chief’s job,” he said.
Chief Robert Farstad was the Schenectady Fire Department’s top-grossing employee in 2008 but was ranked 30th among all city workers. He earned a base pay of $104,000 but grossed $112,802.
Stratton didn’t even make the top 50. The $97,009 he earned last year ranked 74th among all city employees.
Top 10 salaries in 2008
Name, Job title, Base Salary, Gross
* Dwayne Johnson, Police officer, $57,478, $168,921.98
* Brian Kilcullen, Asst. police chief, $94,500, $159,957.91
* Thomas Delaney, Police investigator, $58,341, $153,975.17
* Thomas Adach, Police investigator, $58,341, $148,987.05
* Robert Kutil, Police investigator, $58,341, $147,461.50
* Keith Schaffer, Police investigator, $58,341, $142,713.97
* Matt Hoy, Police sergeant, $63,225, $142,377.51
* Patrick Tremante, Sewer maintenance supervisor, $66,308, $141,296.02
* Luciano Savoia, Police sergeant, $63,225, $135,395.37
* John Ericson, Police investigator, $58,341, $134,644.37
SOURCE: CITY OF SCHENECTADY