Does It Pay for Police Officers to Moonlight? ; Concerns Mount as More Cops Spend Off-Duty Hours Working for Private Firms

By Vanderpool, Tim | The Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

Does It Pay for Police Officers to Moonlight? ; Concerns Mount as More Cops Spend Off-Duty Hours Working for Private Firms


Vanderpool, Tim, The Christian Science Monitor


Wearing serious expressions and dark shades, the men strolling through Tucson's annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair certainly look like regular cops, right down to their crisp blue uniforms and shiny badges. In fact they are, in every way but one: They aren't on the city's clock.

Like colleagues across the country, these officers are moonlighting as security guards.

To the officers, it means extra money: Tucson cops earn more than $2 million collectively from their off-duty work.

To the community, it means increased security presence at no extra cost, since private employers pick up the tab. But some law- enforcement experts say these benefits carry a hidden price tag: The side jobs can wear out work-hungry officers, open doors to conflicts of interest or corruption, and expose police departments to legal liability.

For many departments, the answer lies, for now, in developing detailed guidelines for their officers. But some are backing away from the practice, particularly after facing lawsuits related to off-duty officers.

"They carry their guns and have all their [police] authority.... But they're acting on behalf of a private employer," says James Fyfe, a criminologist and former police officer at Temple University in Philadelphia. "That places them in a very gray zone."

If, for example, an off-duty officer sees his employer commit a crime, making an arrest could threaten his secondary career.

"Certainly the potential for misguided loyalty exists," says Steve Rothlein, a Miami-Dade County police official who teaches classes on off-duty legal issues for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). But he says conflicts of interest can be prevented with proper oversight.

The liability issue, however, has already hit home for some police departments.

In one case last year, an off-duty officer in Mantoloking, N.J., severely fractured a bar patron's arm, prompting a lawsuit that the borough lost. "Our position was that the officer wasn't representing the department," says borough attorney Edwin O'Malley. Now the local government is seeking to halt part-time security work by police officers.

Despite the inherent challenges, many police officers say the private employment benefits the community as well as their own paychecks. …

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