Magazine article Security Management

The Hazards of Hiring Off-Duty Police

Magazine article Security Management

The Hazards of Hiring Off-Duty Police

Article excerpt

IT IS 7:00 P.M. A STORE MANAGER receives a call saying that an off-duty police officer who was hired as a security officer to provide security at the store just seriously injured a customer and himself. The incident arose when the customer wanted a cash refund on merchandise he did not have a receipt for. When the clerk refused, the customer got upset. A fight ensued. While the security officer tried to break up the fight, his gun was fired accidentally, injuring himself and the customer.

Who is responsible for the worker's compensation for the off-duty police officer/security officer? Who is responsible for the customer's injuries?

The demand for off-duty police officers in the private security industry has grown significantly. Hallcrest Report II--Private Security Trends 1970-2000 estimates that approximately 150,000 law enforcement officers are engaged in private security work and earn approximately $1.8 billion a year, making police moonlighting income equal to the combined 1988 revenues of the nation's four largest guard companies.(1)

Many private employers prefer to hire off-duty police officers because they want someone who has received adequate training as well as someone who has the legal authority to make an arrest. They also believe more deference is given to police officers than to private security officers. However, private employers should understand the legal ramifications involved.

In the doctrine of respondeat superior, employers are liable for their employees' actions while they are employed in the firm's business. Employers may even be liable for their employees' actions when employees are not at work or engaged in company business.(2)

However, it is not always apparent who is responsible for an off-duty police officer's tortious act while employed by a private employer. Depending on the circumstances, both the police department and the private employer can be held liable. This is especially true in situations where private security and police officers work together. In some cases, the police officer can be held liable.

A case in New Orleans illustrates how a police department, private employer, and police officer can be held liable for the negligence of an off-duty police officer. In this case, an off-duty police officer for the City of New Orleans Police Department had been employed by a bar in the French Quarter to provide security. One night while the officer was at his post by the door of the bar he heard a call for help from inside and went to investigate. The officer later testified that a man was in a fight, and when he tried to break it up, the man struck the officer in the face. The officer was able to subdue the man and place him in handcuffs.(3)

The man confirmed that he was in a fight because he had been assaulted by another bar patron, but he added that the officer struck him on the head with a billy club without warning and kicked and beat him when he fell to the ground. The man also said that as the officer handcuffed him, he tore his skin and caused heavy bleeding from his side. According to additional testimony, another police officer was on duty but did not help.(4)

The Civil District Court of the Parish of New Orleans concluded that under the circumstances, the police officer had acted in an unreasonable manner and had used excessive force. Furthermore, the court found that the officer "was within the course and scope of his employment with the City of New Orleans" and the bar and, therefore, the officer, the City of New Orleans, and the bar were liable. The plaintiff was awarded $32,515.88--$6,515.88 for medical expenses; $6,000 for loss of wages; and $20,000 for pain and suffering. The court also ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to legal interest and the cost connected with the prosecution of his claim, including the cost of the proceedings.(5)

BECAUSE OF THE LIABILITY PROBLEMS associated with off-duty police officers working part-time security positions, private employers should discuss liability issues with police officers and police departments before hiring officers. …

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