Outside Employment: Guidelines for Law Enforcement Agencies

Article excerpt

Since the introduction of modern policing in America, law enforcement has occupied a unique place among public service organizations. This largely stems from what society has come to expect from law enforcement officers.

The profession demands that they be prepared to exercise enforcement authority 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, although officers generally are scheduled and compensated for a specified duty period (usually 8- or 12-hour shifts). Few, if any, public service vocations share that attribute or require the beating, attentiveness, and diligence exacted by law enforcement.

Despite these high demands, the police profession has never been noted for providing premium salaries to its line officers. To offset the pay inequities, many officers supplement their incomes. In response, some law enforcement agencies have established policies regarding officer employment off the job.

This article discusses some of the factors that agencies face when attempting to regulate outside employment for their officers.(1) It also suggests a set of procedures that administrators can follow to help ensure that part-time or off-duty employment does not interfere with the primary responsibility of law enforcement officers to serve their agencies.


In recent years, two forces have led to a steady rise in the number of officers engaged in outside employment. Reduced public outlays have kept officers' salaries flat in many communities, forcing officers to seek additional income. At the same time, the rising fear of crime has led more businesses, citizens' groups, and other organizations to arrange for additional security. Many officers see the increased opportunities for off-duty security work as a way to supplement their incomes while performing work for which they already are amply trained.

Law enforcement agencies and municipalities can actually benefit from the trend of increased outside employment. The availability of such employment may reduce the continual push by individual officers, police associations, and collective bargaining groups to increase wages, salaries, and benefit packages.

Still, for individual agencies, failure to address outside employment as a priority policy issue can prove disastrous. The blessing of bountiful part-time and off-duty opportunities can indeed become a nightmare for police managers and administrators.

Through collective bargaining agreements and similar measures, some agencies already have lost regulatory authority in many aspects of officer conduct while their officers are engaged in off-duty work. As a result, these agencies have become effectively powerless to regulate the conditions under which officers work in off-duty capacities.

Yet, agencies continue to bear primary liability relating to officer conduct and shoulder the burden of providing workers' compensation for injuries that may result from off-duty enforcement actions. Therefore, law enforcement agencies have a vested interest in establishing and periodically reviewing outside employment policies. Such an effort, regardless of its complexity, should be pursued with the assistance and guidance of a legal advisor.


To develop an outside employment policy, agency administrators first must decide which types of employment will be regulated. For the most part, outside employment opportunities fall into three categories: part-time employment, regular off-duty police employment, and temporary off-duty police employment. An agency should tailor its outside employment policy to address each of these categories.


Part-time employment does not require use of law enforcement powers. In a broad sense, an officer who owns or operates any private business, works on commission, or receives compensation in any form from any person, firm, or corporation other than the department for the performance of nonpolice services is considered to be engaged in part-time employment. …