After cop’s arrest, questions about what being at work means
Updated 6:16 pm, Saturday, February 17, 2018
BRIDGEPORT — Just because Lt. Stephen Shuck was allegedly spending more time at home than at the Bridgeport Police Department does not mean he was not earning his paycheck.
“That’s our position,” Police Union President Sgt. Charles Paris said of Schuck, a 34-year-veteran of the force arrested Tuesday and charged with scamming the department’s payroll and overtime system. “He showed up every morning, went to crime scenes. He just so happened to do much of his work while either at home or out of the office.”
The union head said nothing is in Shuck’s contract that says he had to be in the detective bureau during his whole shift
“I think there is a rush to judgment here,” Paris said. “He performed his duties. What’s the difference where he did it? It’s not like he was out of the state. He was five minutes from the city.”
Police Chief Armando Perez wasn’t buying that.
“So does that mean I can run the police department from my home then?” Perez said. “That is nonsense. Chuck Paris is doing his job and I respect that, but in this case I disagree with him completely.”
Perez said Shuck needed to be at work to supervise the sergeants and detectives working beneath him.
“There are open investigations, and his job is to supervise and review his officers’ work,” the chief said.
According to Shuck’s arrest warrant affidavit, the 64-year-old “has a well-established pattern, over a period of more than eight months, of working only a small portion of the time in which he is being paid for, often working just minutes a day, and this equates to well over a $2,000 loss (the minimum amount required for prosecution) to the city of Bridgeport.”
Shuck, who earned $128,972 — including $23,737 in overtime — in 2017, has been charged with first-degree larceny.
Paris said he wished the chief had “convinced” Shuck, who would be eligible to collect 75 percent of his pay, to retire rather than have him arrested. Paris said he has received a number of calls from other officers wondering why a 2017 case of another cop accused of getting paid while out of the country was handled internally, with no arrest.
“We sent the information on that other case to State’s Attorney John Smriga, and he determined there wasn’t probable cause to make an arrest, so we handled the case administratively,” Perez said. “In (Shuck’s) case, John Smriga found there was probable cause to make an arrest. And he doesn’t sign all our warrant requests, so you know we had a lot of evidence.”
Perez and Shuck graduated from the police academy together. Perez said Shuck was capable, smart, likable, with a dry sense of humor. But he could not recall Shuck having won any awards within the department.
“He flew below the radar,” Perez said. “I think that’s what he wanted.”
Chances to disappear
Associate Professor Jon Shane is a former New Jersey cop who now teaches policing policy and management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“This sort of thing’s been a problem in policing even when officers were on foot in the 1800s,” he said when told of the Shuck case. “They’d duck into a building, hide from their bosses. Stuff like that. Go home. Go to sleep.”
One Bridgeport patrol officer who did not wish to be identified said it is easier for supervisors to abuse the system than it is for rank-and-file cops, who have to attend roll call, are assigned a car and a patrol sector, and must respond to periodic radio checks.
Supervisors like Shuck, this patrol officer alleged, can come in to work, then disappear, then return at shift’s end
“They make their presence known ... but in reality we don’t know what they do,” the officer said.
While Shuck’s arrest may deter abuse of what Perez called a payroll honor system, things are within the union contract that, while not intended for such purposes, could encourage gaming the system.
For example, Bridgeport police officers can boost their pensions with overtime. Shane said that is not unusual, and Bridgeport’s policy is modeled on that of the Connecticut State Police. But, he said, “It does present somewhat of a corruption hazard, because the idea here is to maximize the amount of money you’re going to get going out the door.”
Acording to the union contract, officers called in on days off are paid a minimum of eight hours, even if they do not work that long. The city has been trying to reduce that minimum to four hours.
“The ‘mandatory minimum’ is common practice,” said Shane. “Those kinds of contract provisions — those very lucrative provisions — are subject to negotiation, but they kind of leave a bad taste in the public’s mouth about reasonableness. Everybody can understand why you get paid if you’re called in. But why eight hours for two hours?”
Perez, who has pledged to crack down on payroll violations, has a tool readily available.
The department has navigation technology in all its vehicles. But, Perez admitted, the global positioning system is not normally turned on, except during investigations. For instance, Perez authorized using GPS to build a case against Shuck.
“It’s in all the cars, and I can activate it if I have a cause to do so,” the chief said. “I don’t track everyone. I trust my guys. But when I am made aware of something so terrible, I turn it on.”
Asked why the GPS is not employed more regularly, Perez, whom Mayor Joe Ganim promoted from captain to chief in March 2015, said, “Previous chiefs wanted to use this. And for whatever reason, they just never pulled the trigger.”
His predecessor, former Chief Joseph Gaudett, could not be reached for comment.
Perez said more frequent use of GPS would have to be negotiated with the polic union, because it would be considered a change in work conditions. Paris confirmed that.
The union president said were the cruisers’ GPS units always on, he would want parameters set, including how the data could be used for discipline.
City Councilman Jack Banta, a chairman of the Public Safety Committee, and another committee member — Councilman Ernest Newton, who called for an independent audit of police overtime following Shuck’s arrest — were surprised to learn GPS technology has not been more commonly used.
“Why they’re not on all the time is kind of questionable,” Banta said.
Newton said, “You’re telling me they have them on all the cars? I’m going to make the recommendation that all cars must keep their GPS on.”
But Perez claimed that won’t be necessary because new technology called Nexgen — being launched in police vehicles in March to, among other things, allow officers to file reports from the road — will use GPS.
“I’ll know where everybody is at all times,” Perez said. “All I have to do is go to my smartphone or tablet.”
There is an irony to the Shuck situation. He was arrested one day after a Superior Court judge refused to toss out a $1 million wrongful-termination lawsuit against the city, brought by someone whose job it was to ferret out alleged salary abuses, former Assistant Police Chief James Nardozzi.
Nardozzi was hired in 2013 by then-Mayor Bill Finch to cut police overtime and investigate allegations like those against Shuck. He was an outsider who earned the ire of the union, which endorsed Ganim over Finch in 2015.
Ganim eliminated Nardozzi’ position in January 2016 and transferred his duties to the chief, who at the time was Gaudett. Ganim later pushed Gaudett out and promoted the union’s choice, Perez, the new mayor’s close friend.
In a letter to Ganim last April, Nardozzi’s attorney, Eric Brown, wrote: “By all accounts Chief Nardozzi was doing the job that he was asked to do. ... We believe that his termination may have been politically motivated because the Bridgeport police union supported your candidacy for mayor.”