Law Enforcement

When Is A Cop Not A Cop?

After the lighthearted piece about two Boise coppers traveling with the football team as quasi baby-sitters, we got a note about the police providing private security for multi-millionaire Larry Johnston.

Turns out the BPD drew up their own contract and Albertson’s paid the tab. Chief Mike Masterson told the GUARDIAN it was for a limited time and limited service performed by otherwise off duty officers. He hinted the reason for the extra service was due to threats during the merger talks earlier this year.

If there were threats made, Johnston deserves the same protection afforded ex-wives and girlfriends who are threatened–for free. Is private bodyguard work the proper role for Boise cops–at any price?

The role of the police in Boise–and many communities–has gone far beyond the usual public safety role of “protect and serve.” Police work has become a real business with fancy web sites, media spokesmen, recruiters, and now a fair amount of “outside sales.”

One of the potential new clients for the BPD is the Airport which operates sort of like a business under what is called an “enterprise fund.” That means it is owned by the city, the employees work for the city, but it is funded by user fees which are public money. Currently there is a seperate “airport police,” but there is a good chance Boise PD will take over the duties–which is probably a good idea.

A Boise Cop owns a security business that hires off duty cops from several departments. The chief concedes non-policemen would have a rough time getting hired at the private firm which sells security services to the Quest Arena. He even says it is easier dealing with “real cops” when on-duty officers have to respond to a call. Is there a conflict with a private job that employs mostly, if not all sworn officers?

The ethical question would be a good one for Team Dave’s ethics panel. “If an off duty policeman is working for a private company doing work for a private arena, where does his loyalty lie–with his private boss, the arena, or the citizens of Boise?” Does the private employer expect these guys to enforce the law if they see a violation? Do we citizens expect them to arrest the arena staff for violations? Who pays for “self activation.” What about liability issues when force is used.

BPD contracts with Boise State to be the Campus Police, and as we wrote earlier they offer two unarmed plain clothes officers for football road trips. Boise officers are also hired through the department for crowd control at games on overtime funded by BSU.
Boise Logo.jpg

All of these activities pose some ethical problems for the chief and the command staff. The situation begs for a “Police Commission” of citizens to establish policy–policy that is not in place under the present system. Citizens would act as an advisory panel just like the library board, airport commission, or park board. The experts would implement that policy.

The line between OFFICIAL business and just plain business is quite blurry.

Ada County Assessor Bob McQuade will not allow appraisers to do any “off duty” work, especially in Idaho. He considers it a conflict. Deputy attorneys general are not allowed to do outside legal work within or outside Idaho.

Yet, there are BPD officers who work for personal injury lawyers selling the skills they learned–often at taxpayer expense–reconstructing accidents in big buck lawsuits or appearing as “expert witnesses” based on their police training and experience.

This practice is most in the public eye with cops, but we reported on conflicts in the Boise Public Works Department in the past and a former fire inspector came into conflict doing arson investigation for an insurance firm.

The GUARDIAN offers this space as a forum about public employees selling their skills in the private marketplace while employed by government.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. You mentioned the famed Ethics panel of Team Dave. Before any ethics can be questioned by this panel, they should look at replacing the chair of that panel. The mere appearance of the current chair makes a complete mockery of the entire comission.

    As for off duty cops working security jobs, please don’t think this is some new idea. Off duty police officers work in most towns and cities in this country.

    Their loyalties are to the people they serve. If they witness a crime, they deal with it on the spot because they are duty-bound to do so.

  2. Just curious: Did The Guardian do any free-lance work as a photographer while employed by a newspaper?
    A reporter for The Idaho Spaceman is permitted to write for other publications if the story does not involve use of any of the paper’s materials, equipment, etc., and if the information for the writing was not compiled on company time. If information was gathered on company time, the reporter must offer the story to the newspaper first. If the editors don’t want it, the reporter then is free to sell it to a magazine, for example.
    And, of course, Tim Woodward, Rocky Barker, Zimo, etc. have written books that can’t help but include work done on company time. Woodward, for example, has published books of his columns. Rocky and Zimo have published things that are in their specialty fields, and couldn’t possibly, even if they tried, avoid knowledge gained “at company expense.”
    Besides, if I’m at an event when something really bad begins to happen, I think I’d rather have a trained officer — whether he’s on duty or off — deal with it, than someone the place hired off the street for minimum wage and gave five minutes of training (Yes, I know some of the rent-a-cop agencies are much more careful than that, but some are not).
    I dunno that any of this answers the question of whether these things are conflict of interest, but I think that if a cop wants to pick up a few bucks in an occasional part-time job, it makes sense that he would free-lance as a rent-a-cop rather than, say, as a painter or plumber or some other job for which he does not have proper training, leaving the security job open for the painter or plumber.

    EDITOR NOTE–Gordon, the difference is the PUBLIC trains and pas for the cop. Many echo your sentiments on wanting “professional security” people.

  3. Gordon, the G has a point and I thank him for starting the discussion. While one cannot compare private sector and public sector jobs equally, the “free lance” aspect of police work sounds somewhat tawdry.

    I see the comparision more along the lines of a reporter at The Daily starting his own magazine and hiring only other reporters to work part time with him (or her). Still, it is a private deal and no public aspects come into the picture.

    In some states I see state troopers at construction sites sitting in patrol cars. Is that a public duty or free lance perk?

    A police commission to address policy issues and offer guidance from the public sounds… LOGICAL!

  4. I don’t see any problem with this. There are many prfessions that cross the public/private line, and many public positions provide training for things that are useful in the private sector. Just look at universities: professors are paid with public money but they can still use the skills and knowledge gained in their work in a private setting.

    All the facilities and maintenence crew as well: paid with public money to learn trades (painting, repair, light construction etc.) and more than welcome to apply their skills to a private job. The military does this as well; should former G.I.’s be forever banned from using the skills they learned simply because they learned it on the public dime?

    As far as conflicts go, I really think you’re blowing it out of proportion. I may be wrong, but I do not think that an off-duty cop has any power to make arrests (beyond citizen’s arrest, that is) and certainly doesn’t have the power to issue citations. If, in the course of their private work they witness something that may be a crime, they can report it to on duty officers if they feel it’s warranted. The only thing they would have to be careful of is to recuse themselves of any official investigation brought on by private activities, same as if an off-duty cop called the police on his neighbors: he couldn’t conduct the investigation once he clocked on.

    As for force, that issue is simplicity itself: what an officer does in his off-duty hours is his concern. If he were to use force in the employ of another, then it becomes an issue between the employer, the employee (the officer) and whomever the force was used on. The city did not condone or direct the officers actions or even have any knowledge of what was going on, so I fail to see how this could create a liability issue.

  5. I have some knowledge on this issue. Given the fact that I work for a contractor who provides private security for federal offices in Boise as well as working security at a retail store when not “on duty”. I do this so that I can support my family and allow my wife to stay at home and raise our kids.

    I don’t see where there is a conflict unless we get into a situation where tax payer dollars are being used to provide “special” security when it is not warranted, high profile VIP’s, victims of domestic violence, etc. being an exception. Officers bring a life time of experiences with them when they become police officers and they don’t get paid for those by the department (ie. native Spanish speakers, etc.) so how is it different being paid to provide private security at a store when not being paid by the tax payer? Firefighters learn all about building construction so that they can know how buildings will react in a fire situation depending on construction, etc.

    These firemen then open framing companies, roofing companies, etc. on their days off yet that seems to be acceptable. Police officers providing security on their off duty time is a nation wide practice and has been for years. As for other states where officers work at construction sites, that is typically paid for by the construction companies to have officers present to try and protect workers from being run over.

  6. Mr. Wills,
    I assume you are a policeman. Since I don’t know you, I would never question your ethics or integrity. The POTENTIAL for conflict comes when you see a crime while working in the department store.

    The real conflict is taking money off duty from those you potentially regulate, or even arrest–whether on or off duty.

    Have you ever made an arrest while doing private security work? I recall a fatal shooting of a young man while a detective was using his city car for a private security job with his family aboard. Seems like this goes beyond carpenters.

    Also you missed the point on the firemen. Construction is one thing, but selling smoke detectors and fire extinguishers is another.

    Your newspaper example got me to thinking about the conflict angle as well. It isn’t so much ‘off duty work,” but the type of work. For instnace, wouldn’t it be a conflict for a political reporter to work for an elected official doing PR? Or a government reporter doing PR for the city or county?

  7. I am a professional working for a government agency but they never trained me. Not only that, they refuse to pay for continuing education. They like me the way I am. They are getting way more skill than they pay me for. I moonlight to support my family because we hardly ever get raises. Ever heard of inflation?

    If the Guardian wants to make more money he can work harder or try to be innovative and sell more product. The Guardian does not work for the man. The Guardian does not work for an hourly wage. I see the point the Guardian is trying to make but it only makes sense if the off duty policeman is poaching on jobs that should go to the police or is illegally double dipping. Would it make sense if a fireman (trained by the city) got a moonlighting job as a bouncer and refused to put out a fire with a fire extinguisher in a crowded bar because it conflicted with city policy regulating what firemen do on their time off? What if the Guardian had a relative or a friend die of smoke inhalation because the off duty fireman refused to try and put out the fire? Would he feel his tax dollars were well spent?

    Cops and ethics is a different story. Cops always work for their pay master. A good cop will rat out his mother or best friend before he will rat out a fellow cop. Cops are arbitrary in their use of power. Cops protect property before people. If you assault another human being it is a lesser crime than just stealing his wallet or pension fund. If your kid has a loud Honda Civic car he will get busted way more than the yuppie with louder straight pipes on his Harley. It is likely the Harley rider is a CEO or Governor.

  8. This is a difficult one, but my area of contention would be a Boise police officer should at all times be devoted to upholding the law ” to protect the private citizen.” This means not millionaires, and not area sporting events; what burns me is our society still has not figured out how to ” equip” the police with efective ways to end, as quickly as possible, domestic abuse cases especially where women and children are repeatedly abused.

    I’m not necessarily against moonlighting, but it should only be allowed when the officer is protecting “John Q. Public” not a favorite local event or self-important individuals.
    Their should be a board to oversee police activities made up of civilians who have the best interest of the community at heart.

  9. If they are off duty, WHO CARES! We wouldn’t make a big deal if they worked at McDonalds on the side. I really think this is a non issue. They are only cops when they are on duty, off duty is their business. Next story please…..

  10. Wow,
    John, I sense some real hostility there. Perhaps you had a negative experience in that Honda with the loud pipes? I’m guessing at some point you were wrongfully accused of a crime which you certainly did not commit. You should probably get a little education before making blanket statements like that.

    Bottom line is that cops obey the law, no matter who pays them. The boss can’t pay them to side step the laws of our country or state. There is nothing wrong with some one hiring you because you have a skill set that suits the needs of the prospective employer. So if I need a security person, should I hire a plumber? Are we thinking that cops should only be allowed to do off duty work that is outside of what they are trained to do? Are their skills now exclusive property of their departments? I don’t think that’s fair. Enough with the crooked cop soapbox, it’s pretty worn out.

  11. Snoop has it exactly right! And John, you had me with you up until the last paragraph. That’s where you got totally off base. You obviously don’t know many, or any, cops. Sure, there are the occasional exception, but the VAST majority of people that choose a career in law enforcement do it because they want to do someting positive for the community. Ask any cop if they would rather pull someone from a burning car or give a citation selectively. See what I mean?

  12. When I am off the job I consider it my time. If that means I am practicing my craft to earn a little extra then it is no ones business but my own!

    Idaho wages are crap. Most folks work at least two jobs just to make ends meet. That also means more people are spending time working and away from their families.

    I get really sick and tired when some punk-ass(not you Dave) legislator goes on and on about how their values are high and mighty and then turn around and raise taxes on working renters while simultaneously voting down an increase in the minimum wage.

    Enough of the holier than though garbage! Boise cops, (I am not one) work their butts off. They get hurt, shot at, derided etc. and then folks like the guy above have the nerve to question their ethics.

    What unmitigated gall. You nay-sayers should apologize.

  13. One thing that keeps popping up in this discussion is what happens if the off-duty cop working security sees a crime being committed, or something of that sort.
    I don’t know what the laws, regulations, etc. are now, but it used to be said that a cop is never totally off duty. That is, if he sees someone being murdered, or something else major, bam! He’s a cop again!

    When I was a newspaper reporter (and even when I was an editor), I felt I was never totally off duty. If I saw a major wreck, a house fire, or anything else that looked like it might be important, I got a bit of basic info and then phoned it to the city desk to hand to an on-duty reporter (or not, depending on the city editor’s judgment about whether it was something that should be covered).

    Come to think of it, I still do call in occasionally to let them know about something major going on, and give them what information I was able to get quickly.

    I think any cop worth his badge would be somewat like that; if he (or she) saw a major crime in progress, he’d try to stop it, while calling in for on-duty officers to deal with it.
    I know ambulance crews, doctors and nurses will not walk past an injured person just because they’re “off duty.”

    And I can’t imagine a cop standing on the street watching someone being beaten to death or raped or whatever and just saying, “Gee, I’m sorry, but I’m off duty.”

  14. Gordon, once again your apples and oranges comparision just doesn’t work. No one is suggesting police ignore crime. Just the opposite.

    In your reporter scenario it would be like hiring the “off duty” reporter because you WANT YOUR STORY PUBLISHED…give them a few bucks to write about your subdivision with the intent they think it is worth putting it in the paper.

    Look at how many “hard hitting” reporters end up working for the government agencies they covered…including some formerly respected veterans newsmen.

    Same deal in this discussion: Hire an off duty cop and you get the benefit of his training, he has the power to make arrests, and his on-duty brothers are likely to respond and assist when needed. Smart business, bad public policy.

  15. Personally, I am more concerned about(apparently) on-duty BPD members delivering flags donated by Butch Otter this past Summer to SE Boise residents who had theirs stolen.
    Nice PR move by Butch but I don’t think on-duty cops had any business serving as his “campaign staff” while driving BPD vehicles and wearing their uniforms.

  16. I am told an officer is not allowed to wear their uniform while doing off duty work. However, if an officer was allowed to do this it would provide an even more apparent positive externality of having the off-duty officer “on the beat.” Criminals are reluctant to commit crimes where they see officers.

    Less crime and more police coverage with out the city paying for it seems like a good idea to me.

  17. The only real ethical concern I can see in this discussion would be for an off-duty officer to use city equipment to earn money. It’s ridiculous to believe that using ‘knowledge’, regardless of where it’s acquired, is unethical. (And I’m speaking of general knowledge about laws etc., not private information only available to law enforcement). I like Naznarreb’s analogy… If I learn to fly planes in the military, would I be banned from flying commercial planes because I acquired my skills and training at taxpayer expense? Too far out there?? Ok, if I’m a military cook, should I not be allowed to work at the local ‘greasy spoon’ on my off-duty time because taxpayer money taught me how to prepare food? (assuming I’m not using a $600 military spatula)

    The simple fact is that Idaho law gives citizens the same arrest and enforcement options as police officers, so it wouldn’t be necessary to hire off-duty officers to ‘enforce’ the law. (If you don’t believe me, the next time you see someone run a red light, get a plate # and driver description, then call the police and ask to sign a traffic citation against that driver. An officer will respond and you get to sign the ticket).

    Sure, in the event that a crime is committed in the presence of an off-duty officer, he could potentially self-activate (he/she doesn’t need to be working private security to do this). However, private employers typically DO NOT WANT off-duty officers to be enforcers, but rather, they want them to be trained observers. Unless the officer sees a violent crime in progress, they’re directed to call on-duty officers to handle the situation. Thus, the only real advantage is the off-duty officer’s ability to interact with on-duty police.

    Private employers hire off-duty police because officers are professional, reliable, knowledgeable of the law, and they’re less apt to get the employer into legal trouble.

  18. I suggest Chester compare Boise cop ethics violations as a percentage of total workforce to another similar law enforcement agency such as State Police. There are more ethics violations per city cop than state cop. City cops require an ombudsman to handle complaints of ethics violations. Do fireman have an ombudsman?

    And, yes I have been indiscriminately violated by cops on two occasions in the last 25 years and never charged with anything. And no, I do not have a Honda with loud pipes. Just ask any muffler shop in this town if kids get busted frequently for loud cars. Ask a Harley guy if he is afraid of getting busted. I live near the Harley store and I have never witnessed a cop writing tickets for loud pipes. The crooked cop soapbox will never be over until doughnuts sing.

  19. You can’t serve two masters, and you’re either on duty or off. When a cop moonlights, he/she should be out of uniform. When a cop is off duty, he/she should have no more duty to respond to a crime than any other citizen. They deserve time off, and shouldn’t have to moonlight in the first place. Cops who are moonlighting should NOT wear the city uniform.

    As to the safety of Mr. Johnston, awwwww, my heart bleeds. I wonder if he got the cops cheaper with his preferred card. I wonder if he got them at 7 for 13, or buy one, get one free.

    The dude got $40 million for screwing up and selling out. Worst thing is that he’s only one of a whole class of prima donna executives who make a name for themselves by screwing their workers, their customers, their shareholders, etc. The pigs make me sick. Time for Hollywood to stop glorifying them.

    Let him buy his own cops. Why should Albertsons pay for his stupidity and hubris?

  20. John,
    you are showing your obvious lack of understanding of basic policing. ISP is not by any stretch of the imagination a similar agency. ISP is a highway patrol agency that deals predominantly with traffic enforcement, accident investigation and broken down cars. City police deal with criminal investigations on a regular basis and probably take many more folks to jail.

    This in turn likely results in more complaints, not ethics violations. Ethics violations are something else completely. So if you are going to make these generic uninformed statements, be prepared to be made to look foolish. At least do you homework, choose another agency that is similar, maybe Nampa. Realize that ethics violations and officer complaints are two different things. And the Ombudsman was simply a knee jerk reaction of a weak mayor (Coles) and council that were too spineless to defend their police department in front of the public. Creating his office was simply a way to relieve them of any political heat.

  21. Boy! Guardian, you have certainly stirred the esoteric thinkers stew this time! Listening to all this pompous, self-serving crock about what cops do with their off time is really getting old.
    The very moment some big, mean, nasty looking dude has you down on the pavement kicking the philosphical doo-doo out of you, every single one of you will be crying for a cop to show up. and you will not even contemplate whether or not he, or she, is on duty, off duty,or in between duties.
    Just save your “waxing philosophical diatribes” for the important stuff.

  22. junkyard dog
    Oct 28, 2006, 5:35 am

    Unless you are an inventor for Dow or a super spook for the CIA or something, companies don’t “own” your knowledge and if cops want to work off duty as security guards, short order cooks, or bicycle repairman, that’s not only their business but their right, just like all the rest of us have the right to seek other employment as long as we are not “stealing resources” from our primary employer to do so.

    John obviously has a personal vendetta against the BPD. His comments about “ethics violations” and “crooked cops” really rankles my fur because I know a lot of cops personally. These men and women are hardworking, sincere and dedicated to the neighborhoods they serve and its scandalous that they get paid so poorly that they have to moonlight at all.

    John, shut up.

  23. Junkyard Dog, I was just trying to be polite, I’m with you on this one. Well said.

  24. curious george
    Oct 28, 2006, 11:26 am

    Why are local police in such need to secure second jobs?

    Boy, they just must LOVE working more than full-time and spending time away from their families. It certainly seems that there’s no shortage of off-duty police to fill the ranks of private security firms.

    I have to think that if we valued the efforts of our community police, and paid them well enough to raise their families, there wouldn’t be a problem with putting a “non-compete” clause in their labor contracts.

    If the subject of a non-compete clause has never been brought up in labor negotiations then it seems pretty clear that the municipality accepts that private-sector security employers will be picking up the slack for less-than-adequate wages. If you can’t find out whether such a clause has been discussed – you could infer that the subject is taboo by seeing if there are administrative rules in place to punish an officer for using public resources while working off-the-clock.

    Seems to me that since officers do feel the need to work extra jobs, and that there are (at least some) prohibitive rules regarding the use of government resources, the municipality has already tacitly agreed that moonlighting is a “fact of life” (i.e., “we” won’t pay our police officers enough to live a decent life).

    “When is a cop not a cop?” – When they’re paid poor wages.

  25. I think Curious has hit the nail on the head. Let’s make sure the cops are happy ($$$) with the real job, so there would be no need for the moonlighting. I appreciate my time away from the job.

    I think Curious George should be actually called, Curious Guardian. He writes with a great balance on all subjects here at the Guardian.

  26. Junkyard… sorry I offend you. I too belive cops are under paid. I defend their right to moonlight. Did I ever say I had problems with ethical cops? I never had an ethical BPD cop knock me off my bicycle, beat and scare the crap out of me and steal my six pack because he didn’t like the way I looked back in the 80’s. Look at todays Statesman and read about the trouble Salt Lake City is having with cop ethics violations. Probably due to under paid and under educated officers and the people who support the status quo by saying stuff like “stay the course” and “shut up”.

  27. Leave the cops alone and they will leave you alone. Do something wrong and any good cop seeing it will immediately go on duty. As if they are ever off duty. If I want and can afford protection I will hire a cop. Since I can’t afford protection, that is why I have a permit to carry.

  28. Boise Cops UNDERPAID???

    Below is a posting shown on the BPD web site.

    From the page

    # Sworn personnel with less than 3 years of previous full time law enforcement experience will start at the Probationary Officer pay grade – $2,795 to $3,085.
    # Sworn personnel having 3 years, but less than 5 years of previous full time law enforcement experience will start at the Police Officer I pay grade – $3,326 to $3,606.
    # Sworn personnel with 5 years or more of previous full time sworn law enforcement experience will start at the Police Officer II pay grade – $3,459 to $3,739.

    So if you work for BPD and have been a cop for at least three years but less than five, you’ll make a hair under $40K (and that’s with no overtime).

    When someone making $40K a year for three years experience is UNDERPAID, they don’t need another job, they need to budget their money.

  29. I have to admit, I find it REALLY frustrating that anyone would point to the new CSS’s, community service specialists, as a waste of funds. They are civilians, and frankly, they make less than HALF what the starting officers make. Granted they may not all have the same experience as sworn officers, but they do free up sworn officers to do the more dangerous calls. They go into the field WITHOUT the protection of a firearm, and without the protection of the special status officers receive and they do it for a great deal less. This comes at their expense, and saves the taxpayers money. This is a trend across the nation, hiring civilians to do tasks that don’t necessarily require a sworn officer. I imagine that sworn officers did a lot to try and stop it. The Boise Police are after all a union.

    I have to agree, the average officer makes a pretty penny. To hear them complain that they cant make a living is pretty sad. Police officers are in a unique and protected class in our society. They certainly do a difficult and thankless job but at least in Boise, they are among the highest paid civil servants in the state.

    For the fella who equates this to firemen? When is the last time you saw a fireman deprive someone of their freedom? According to the law or not, we give officers the right to violate some of the basic tenants of our society in the course of their duties. To make that comparison is an apples and oranges statement. We grant them powers that go way beyond the powers of a normal citizens.

    If you really believe that every citizen holds the same police powers, try making a citizens arrest some time. Try making a traffic stop. Try writing that ticket WITHOUT the officer there to deliver it for you and cuff the guy, see what you get.

    I have the utmost respect for them and their profession but I think there are serious ethical questions that go along with “Rent-A-Cop” programs. I find it interesting that in Iraq people take great offense to Mercenaries, and look down on them, but if a cop does the same thing, its cool. We entrust both soldiers and police with lethal force, just food for thought.

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