I-Team investigation prompts change in Swansea police policy

Most of us have called in sick to work at one time or another. But what if staying home could actually be more lucrative than going into work?

The NBC 10 I-Team got a tip that a handful of police officers in Swansea called in sick, then showed up a few hours later to work paid police details.

That's because they could make more working the detail than working their regular shift.

That can get expensive for taxpayers. Average pay for a Swansea patrol officer is about $27 an hour.

When another officer has to fill a sick officer's shift on overtime, it costs at least $40 an hour.

Then the sick officer earns detail pay of $40 an hour with a four-hour minimum, at least $160.

The I-Team dug through time card records to see who called in sick and when.

In the past three years, seven of Swansea's 31 officers called in sick and then worked a detail in the same 24-hour period.

After the I-Team requested a log of sick time and details going back three years, Chief George Arruda took a look at the same information NBC 10 did.

"We're going to move forward and we're going to be better. So, I appreciate your inquiry," Arruda said.

Arruda told the I-Team that was aware of one incident this year. But when he took a closer look at the same records the I-Team reviewed, he spotted several more.

"I went through and found approximately five to seven details where officers had worked when they called in sick," Arruda said.

The chief said three of the officers in question had legitimate explanations, like working the detail first and then leaving work due to a family emergency.

As for the other four?

"I've met with these officers. If someone calls in sick, they're not authorized to work a detail. If it happens in the future, they will be suspended," Arruda said.

The I-Team took what it found to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

"The idea that the same individual would call in sick and then do a police detail, that's a first that I've heard of," the foundation's Michael Widmer said.

Widmer said he believes the real problem is New England's police detail system.

The numbers in Swansea are small. But Widmer said anytime details can pay more than a regular day's work, it's an invitation for abuse.

The I-Team found several Swansea officers made an extra $20,000 a year or more by working details.

One officer topped the list with $27,000 in detail pay for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, including one instance where a sick call and a detail fell on the same day.

The I-Team found out calling in sick and then showing up at a detail site a few hours later wasn't against Swansea's department policy, until now. Following the I-Team's record request, the chief banned the practice going forward.