Blurring the Line between Public and Private Sectors: The Case of Police Officers' Off-Duty Employment

Article excerpt

While much recent attention has been given to the outsourcing of government services, little is known about the opposite situation in which private organizations retain the services of public workers. What do governmental workers have to offer the private labor market anyway? More importantly, why is government labor available for purchase by private interests? These questions are addressed within the context of the most active market for public personnel--the retention of off-duty municipal police officers by private employers.

The private employment of public police is not a new phenomenon. It predates the contemporary push for "entrepreneurial" and "businesslike" government by several decades. A number of factors dating back to the 1950s fueled the growth in the private employment of public police. (1) For one, rising crimes rates increased the desire for better personal and commercial security. Unable to meet the demand on its own, the private sector tapped into the existing pool of off-duty police officers. The mounting crime problem had another effect that indirectly led to greater demand for off-duty work. Police departments, overwhelmed by the increase in crime, began to shed activities deemed to be of lower priority, including much work previously performed for private interests (e.g., traffic control for weddings and funerals, security at sporting events). The emergence of collective bargaining and, more specifically, union demands for increased compensation also contributed to the rise in off-duty police work. Off-duty employment offered the benefits of greater public safety and higher wages without the need for direct public expenditure. According to Reiss, "A public good seemingly was supplied at private cost." (2) For cash-strapped municipalities, this was an irresistible opportunity that could not be passed up.

Why is there a private market for police services and not for other forms of public service? An important explanatory factor is the work schedule of officers. The shift schedules of police officer, like those of schoolteachers, college professors, and some medical professionals, provide extended periods of downtime for officers and create opportunities to hold second jobs. It is not uncommon for officers to work several 10-to 12-hour shifts in a row and then get three to four days off. (3)

The second distinctive feature of policing that promotes secondary employment is that officers have specialized training and law enforcement authority. Off-duty police officers can provide a wide range of services that are highly valued in both the public and the private spheres such as directing traffic, providing security, maintaining order, and deterring crime. Another issue relates to the culture of police organizations. Senior officers socialize new recruits to the practice of outside employment. Taken together, these factors create a fertile environment for multijobholding in policing.

An important aspect of police off-duty work that has not been explored is the unique public-private systems of administration that have developed to ensure that both public (collective) and private (individual) benefits are produced. Since police departments facilitate the temporary transfer of public personnel assets to private businesses, it is logical to try to learn more about how departments oversee the process. The purpose of this article is to explore how police departments regulate the off-duty employment of their officers and reconcile their own interests with those of the officers and the private employers.

After a brief summary of the existing literature on police off-duty employment, the potential benefits and shortcomings of police off-duty employment are considered. Methods for managing secondary employment are also introduced in the opening section of the article. This is followed by a description of the current state of secondary employment of police officers in a sample of large police departments in North Carolina. …