“Catch Me If You Can,” was the title of a 2002 movie based on the true story of a con artist who for a long time managed to stay one step ahead of the cops. In Schenectady, sadly, it could apply to the cops themselves, who seem to think they can make their own rules and do what they want with impunity, or close to it.
And they’re mostly right. For they know that their brethren won’t try too hard to catch them, or will cover up for them; and even if they are caught, the consequences won’t be very severe. Thus we have Exhibit 50 or so in recent years: the case of Dwayne Johnson, the cop who was off duty even when he was on. Thanks to some detective work by Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore, residents of Schenectady now know that for at least the first five weeks of this year, Johnson spent several hours each Tuesday morning inside a private residence, with his marked patrol car outside.
And despite $22,000 GPS units installed in each patrol car in November to keep better track of officers and prevent this very type of thing from happening, nobody noticed or, if they did, cared — not the dispatchers, who sit next to a board showing the location of each car on a shift; not the sergeant and lieutenant, who are also close by and responsible for the patrolmen. In the extremely unlikely event that they didn’t know, these people were incompetent and should be demoted; if they knew and were all covering up for Johnson, that’s more like a criminal conspiracy and they should be prosecuted.
And what about Johnson? Fire him. Isn’t that what would happen to nearly any other employee in similar circumstances? He wasn’t doing his job, the one he is sworn and paid to do. If he signed time sheets saying he worked those hours, he was knowingly filing false instruments. He deserves to be fired, and anybody but a union officer or lawyer, or perhaps arbitrator, would agree.
The only reason for not doing so is the inevitable grievance or lawsuit by the union, which — state labor law being so protective of public safety officers — the city might lose. But that didn’t stop former Schenectady County Sheriff Harry Buffardi from firing his underlings when he believed it was warranted, and he won some. Even if the city lost, Johnson would be out for a good long time and the message would have been sent that the city and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett — who has claimed the right of discipline for himself, not an arbitrator — are serious about getting control of a still-dysfunctional department.