Police Chief Mark Chaires is investigating his department’s supervisors to determine whether they conspired to protect officers who go AWOL during their shifts.
The investigation began after The Daily Gazette notified the police that one officer was spending three or more hours in an apartment when he was supposed to be on patrol.
Police used a GPS unit to determine that officer Dwayne Johnson, an eight-year veteran of the department, skipped about 30 hours of work over the past three months.
The question now is why no one noticed his absence.
“How can a police officer who’s supposed to be on duty fall off the face of the earth and nobody knows about it?” said Mayor Brian U. Stratton. “Where are the supervisors?”
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said the department is investigating the sergeants and lieutenants who were on duty during Johnson’s absences. He added that he doesn’t see how Johnson got away with leaving work for hours every week without the collusion of his supervisors.
“I simply don’t know at this point … but I think it almost suggests there is a conspiracy here and I think that should go to the district attorney for review,” Bennett said.
If supervisors did not conspire to let Johnson leave work early, they may not be off the hook. The other option is that supervisors simply didn’t do their job.
“That’s not acceptable either,” Bennett said.
Meanwhile, Bennett must also decide how to discipline Johnson.
Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said Johnson will likely be required to pay the city back for the 30 hours he spent in an apartment while he was supposed to be patrolling the city.
That will cost Johnson less than $1,000 — which might be viewed as a relatively insignificant amount for the officer who nearly tripled his salary by working overtime last year.
Bennett said Johnson may not just get a fine. The officer also could be charged with filing a false instrument for signing an inaccurate pay card.
“There could be a lot of charges on the administrative end,” Bennett said.
The mayor wants stiff penalties, too.
“I wouldn’t rule out charges, including criminal charges,” Stratton said on Wednesday. “It is, after all, a theft of time. We need to look at this in the most serious light.”
The reaction has been far more severe than it was last summer when The Daily Gazette reported that officer Thomas Disbrow spent time in a bowling alley in Scotia when he was supposed to be working.
Disbrow paid the city back for the hours he spent at the bowling alley. The city also installed GPS units in the patrol cars after that incident but said the change had nothing to do with Disbrow’s actions. No changes were made to supervisory policies.
This time, Chief Chaires instituted two policies. On Tuesday he told supervisors they must print out the GPS reports each day to verify their officers’ whereabouts during their shifts. On Wednesday, he said supervisors on the overnight shift must check in with every officer every 15 minutes. That policy had been in place years ago, Bennett said; he did not know when or why it was discontinued.
Dispatchers have also been told to watch the GPS screen, which shows the real-time location of each car. If they see any car stationary for more than 15 minutes, they must notify the sergeant on duty.
Stratton said the department is taking the incident more seriously this time because officials thought they had solved the problem by installing GPS units.
“It’s probably more embarrassing because, after the bowling, we went ahead and bought the GPS,” Stratton said. “And now it turns out the technology is not even being used.”
Bennett said the incident is also considered more serious because Johnson was not just any officer. He made more money last year than any other city employee, working double shifts nearly every day. He made $168,921 by working an average of 75 hours a week last year. So far this year he has averaged 70 hours per week, according to payroll records.
The apartment he has been visiting is not his family’s home. He lives with his wife and four daughters in the neighborhood of Central Park.
Apparently installing GPS units did not have any deterrent effect — Johnson started visiting an apartment at the corner of Queen Philomena Boulevard and Sir Benjamin Way just as the GPS units were activated in November.
The officer was observed by a Daily Gazette reporter and other witnesses as he entered and stayed in an apartment on five Tuesdays in a row this year.