Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unnecessary Complication in Off-duty Police Assignments

Back in April, when the off-duty police assignment system was proposed, there was a great deal of discussion about this topic and I offered my perspective. I linked four parts of The Admiral's work on contracting and calculations. As expected, this issue has demonstrated itself to be unnecessary complicated and, most importantly, compromises the accountability of the police bureau. Bram and Ed offer a perspective on the current situtation when Rich Lord reports, "City making money on police officers' side jobs".

In the April post, I wondered where the money from the surcharge fee was going and what proportion would go to the police union's legal defense fund.

Assistant Chief Regina McDonald said much of it is instead covering overtime stemming from court dates. "If an officer makes an arrest while working a secondary detail, the court time is paid for by the secondary employment payments," she said.

Money from the side job fee also is going for uniforms, training and equipment, she said, with some left over to defray injury claims or lawsuits.

"I'd hate to see that money end up in asphalt or something," said union President James Malloy, calling the decision not to squirrel it away "a damn shame."
I don't remember reading anything in the MSM about the fee covering court dates, training and equipment. In fact, Jeremy Boren had reported that "The fee will feed the police union's legal defense fund and cover medical liability costs if an officer is hurt while working off duty." Now, only "some" is left over to defray injury claims or lawsuits. Might those fees end up contributing to the Ravenstahl administration's surplus budget? What, in fact, is the system on where this pot of money should go? I thought the first priority of the project was to prevent bankrupting the city coffers from suits against abusive police officers.

I had wondered about why private schedulers were still allowed to schedule officers and the fidelity of those schedulers to report off-duty assignments and secure the surcharge fee for city revenue. Yet:
The administration considered eliminating the practice of allowing officers to run small businesses scheduling their colleagues for private security work. In a concession to the union, though, the mayor allowed a two-pronged system, in which employers can ask the Police Bureau to assign officers on a rotating basis, or use a scheduler.

That concerns attorney Tim O'Brien, who represented Mr. Werling and has handled numerous cases stemming from police side jobs. He said better monitoring of the side work is a step forward, but private schedulers undermine that.

"If individual schedulers means less supervision, that is not desirable," he said. All side jobs should be "regulated from within [the bureau], in all respects."

As a result, the scheduling business, viewed by some as the Wild West aspect of the side job industry, is alive and well.

Of some 830 active officers, 80 are registered with the bureau as side-job schedulers, Chief McDonald said.
Of 640 employers approved to hire off-duty police, 203 have chosen to use private schedulers.
Now, about one-tenth of the officers are registered as side-job schedulers and about one-third of employers have chosen to use private schedulers. Those numbers don't tell us if big contracting businesses for off-duty assignments account for a majority of the scheduled hours. What is absent from this report is if there is a accountability check on the schedulers to report (and collect the surcharge) for every single hour of off-duty service. The scheduling business is 'wild west' because something is in it for schedulers. What is that motivating factor of being a scheduler? Are these schedulers skimming off surcharge fees? Is there a separate fee for providing desired officers for contracting businesses such as the Pirates who want the same officers they have used in the past?
"I won't use the city [rotation] system, because I don't know who I'll get," said Station Square Security Director Paul M. Wolak. The $3.85 charge cost him $900 last month, he said -- money he would rather have used to add 30 more hours of police protection.

"All it is, is a tax on the business," he said.
Well, yes sir, you could frame it as a tax on business. You could also frame it like James Malloy, police union president:
Whether the fee drops or not, business won't dry up, Mr. Malloy predicted. That's because businesses want something private security firms can't provide.

"They're buying the psychological appearance of a uniformed officer," he said, "who has the power to point a finger at someone and say, 'You're under arrest.' "
That ability is the police bureau's comparitive advantage. If you don't want to pay the fee than you are free to hire private security firms.

This whole piloting of a system to regulate and secure fees from off-duty police assignments has resulted in a display of unnecessary complication. What is clear is that this program should be revisited and ensure that ALL contracting for off-duty assignment goes through the bureau. Since Malloy has thrown a few fireballs at Ravenstahl in recent weeks, perhaps the mayor would use this as an opportunity to go against the union and remove the opportunity for private schedulers to exist. Perhaps, like Bram stated, "likely dates to watch for the "pilot program" to end would be just prior to the start of football season -- or just after the election".


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