City failure to hold disciplinary hearings is bad for both employees and taxpayers - The Buffalo News

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City failure to hold disciplinary hearings is bad for both employees and taxpayers

Somebody at the Buffalo Police Department isn’t minding the store. A civilian dispatcher arrested a year ago on a prostitution charge has been collecting her paycheck and doing no work – no police work, anyway – because the department has failed to conduct a required disciplinary hearing.

But Mary E. Ruchaczewski apparently hasn’t been idle. On Monday, she was arrested again on prostitution charges. And, once again, unless police hold a disciplinary hearing, she’ll be back on the city payroll in a month, getting a check for doing nothing.

It is possible in this case to have more sympathy for Ruchaczewski than for the city. The 49-year-old woman is reportedly struggling with a gambling problem and apparently resorting to prostitution to support that compulsion. Those kinds of issues can be deep-rooted and complex and she obviously needs help. She won’t get that if there are no consequences to her behavior.

The city’s problem, on the other hand, is rank incompetence. Civil service law requires public employers to resume paying suspended workers after 30 days while their disciplinary hearings are pending. That properly prevents long-term punishment without benefit of due process, but it also allows police officials to drag their feet, do nothing and let taxpayers shoulder the consequences.

This isn’t simply a problem involving one wayward dispatcher, whose 2013 charge of prostitution was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal on the condition that she remain a law-abiding citizen for six months. Sources say there have been virtually no disciplinary hearings conducted for almost four years, since the April 2010 firing of an assistant corporation counsel whose full-time responsibility was personnel matters within the Police Department.

Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball defended his office, noting the significant amount of time and resources it devotes to police matters, as well as Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda’s efforts to instill a high standard of discipline within the department by ridding it of officers who fail to do their jobs properly.

That’s all commendable, and even important. But it’s also irrelevant to the question at hand. Officers being disciplined deserve their due process, as do taxpayers who are on the hook for salaries that, evidently, can continue for four years and counting.

Plainly, the situation needs more attention, and it’s fair to speculate that the costs wouldn’t be significant if the officers and other employees awaiting a disciplinary hearing had been either returned to work or fired.

Assuming this latest charge against Ruchaczewski holds up, she certainly shouldn’t be allowed to continue as a police dispatcher. But we hope someone in City Hall will have mercy and point her toward the counseling she desperately needs.

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