Firefighter Nabbed By Tracking Device

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
March 16, 2000 12:00 am

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ARLINGTON, VA–A firefighter was caught playing hooky after police put a tracking device on his car, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the city’s fire chief, suspecting that Jerome Dale Smith was spending part of his shift at home, had asked police to investigate. The device confirmed the chief’s suspicions.

Kent Willis, executive director of the AC LU of Virginia, said police went too far.

“It’s almost bizarre – as if from a futuristic novel or movie about loss of privacy in a high-technology world,” Willis said.

Police Chief Edward Flynn defended the surveillance.

“It certainly is a serious issue,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to telecommute fighting a fire.”

Smith, a battalion chief and 20-year veteran of the fire department, eventually was suspended after the device showed he spent as much as 47 percent of his 24-hour shift at home.

Smith, 39, argued that he was working from home and that his latest performance rating was superior.

He learned about the surveillance when he appealed his suspension at a Civil Service Commission hearing last week. The commission reduced his suspension from 20 days to five.

Smith, the highest-ranking black firefighter in the department’s history, said he was targeted because of his race and because he had filed a federal discrimination complaint against the department.

Fire Chief Edward Plaugher denied that race played any role in the investigation.

Source: Associated Press, March 16, 2000

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