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Why Police Departments Must Have Policies for Officers Who Moonlight

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By Andrew Bell, faculty member, Criminal Justice with American Military University and
Bruce Razey, 35-year police veteran

Many businesses and private companies hire off-duty law enforcement officers as security personnel for special events because they are already trained and require little support. Some law enforcement departments allow officers to wear their uniform and use police-issued equipment such as defensive weapons, police radios, and even marked police cars when they moonlight on these off-duty jobs.

Having trained officers working part-time can be mutually beneficial to both police departments and private companies. In an emergency or critical incident, these officers have the training and experience to take appropriate action, provide on-the-ground actionable intelligence, communicate quickly with police headquarters, and provide on-scene support.

However, there are also risks involved with allowing officers to moonlight. That’s why it’s important for law enforcement departments to have clear policies and procedures for officers who engage in part-time security work. Here are some significant factors departments need to consider when allowing their officers to moonlight for a private company.

Maintaining Chain of Command

When a private company hires officers, some departments require they hire a police supervisor to ensure there is a clear chain of command. An example of this is when a stadium hires officers for security during a sporting event. Without proper guidance and planning from a police supervisor, if there were an active shooter incident, for example, every officer would likely charge towards the shooter. Having a police supervisor calling the shots can help ensure officers respond effectively to potential critical incidents. 

Ensuring Officers Have Authority to Reduce Strain on Police Resources

Hiring, training, and maintaining enough officers to work the streets is already straining agency resources. So when departments allow off-duty work, it should not be an additional burden to on-duty resources. For example, if an officer is on a moonlight job and sees a criminal act requiring a physical arrest, the off-duty officer should have the authority to handle the arrest rather than pawning it off to an on-duty officer. Therefore, police departments must establish policies with private companies that make it clear the responsibilities and authority of officers who moonlight. 

Considering Costs and Addressing Liabilities

Who pays for the medical bills when an officer sustains an injury while doing part-time work? Like police work, part-time security work is inherently dangerous. Should citizens’ tax dollars that fund police departments be paying for injuries that occur while officers moonlight for a private company? Well, the answer is maybe. The legalities of civil liability are dizzying, which is why many cities and some departments have legal offices to work out these issues.

Many departments require private companies to submit Hold Harmless documents, which is a legal document that ensures the company will not hold the government (i.e., the police department) accountable for injuries or damages incurred from officers working part-time. Some departments also require companies to place insurance bonds (a set amount of money that is held to cover costs of injuries to officers while working at their company) before they can employ off-duty officers. How the injury occurs and if the hiring company had measures in place to prevent it can be deciding factors in whether they cover any costs. For example, if the injury occurred when the part-time officer was following police department policy in attempting to stop or mitigate a crime, the cost may be shared.

Addressing Issues of Failure to Act

What happens when officers do not take proper action in an incident? Who’s responsible for this failure to act? For example, during the Parkland school shooting, two sheriff’s deputies assigned as school resource officers, failed to approach the shooter despite being armed. Should the sheriff’s department take responsibility for the inaction? To prevent such a situation happening again, there needs to be very specific policies around the roles and responsibilities of these officers. It is not good enough to say, “take appropriate action” or “do your job.” In the case of the Parkland sheriff’s deputies they were on duty and still failed to take appropriate action. It can be more confusing for off-duty officers. Thus both, on-duty and part-time officers need to know exactly what is expected of them, especially in critical incidents.

Ensuring Officers Have Extensive Knowledge of the Venue

Security measures in buildings and venues are becoming more sophisticated. Part-time officers need to partner and work with managers and employees at these venues to ensure they know their way around and can easily gain access to different areas. If they don’t, it can have deadly consequences. For example, at the Virginia Beach shooting police found they did not have the proper access cards to enter each room to engage the shooter or check for victims.

When the first bullet flies or the first person is injured in a critical incident, officers are no longer working a part-time job. They are now on duty! It is imperative that departments have clear policies and legal documentation about the roles and responsibilities of officers who moonlight for private companies to protect themselves from liability and citizens from harm.

About the Authors:

moonlightAndrew Bell has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years in the U.S. military and civilian service. He served as a patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant, community-policing supervisor, school resource supervisor and detective supervisor. He was called to active duty with U.S. Army Reserve after 9/11 and completed a tour in Afghanistan. Andrew also worked for the U.S. federal government in Army intelligence, Army capabilities unit and emergency operations. He holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor of science degree with a concentration in criminal justice. Andrew has been a faculty member with American Military University since 2004.

moonlightBruce Razey began his law enforcement career in 1975. During his 35-year career, he worked for three diverse police departments. Bruce served in patrol operations, special operations and the investigative division. His assignments included field training officer, air unit coordinator/observer, field training supervisor, community policing supervisor, detective supervisor and committee chairman for internal affairs review unit. He served on numerous hiring and promotional boards; authored and co-authored policies and procedures; created lesson plans to instruct new and veteran officers in a variety of topics; and established policy and guidelines for an improved method of conducting police lineups and eye-witness testimony. Bruce holds a bachelor of science degree in criminology from the University of Saint Leo, Florida. He graduated number one from the Regional Police Academy and from the West Point Leadership & Management Training Course.

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