The Tennessee Titans may soon learn what everyone from former Fire Chief Buck Dozier to Gaylord Entertainment officials already knows: You don’t mess with Mayor Bill Purcell.
Having ruffled a closet full of corporate suits less than 18 months into his tenure as the city’s top official, Purcell now is taking on the Titans’ top brass. At issue: How the franchise hires and provides security for its home games.
According to Metro officials, the Titans franchise has slashed hourly rates for off-duty Metro police officers from about $30 an hour to $20. As a result, Metro’s finest have increasingly shunned security gigs at Adelphia, prompting the Titans to hire police officers outside Davidson County. Last year, Metro officers staffed nearly all the security jobs at Adelphia. Now, Nashville police fill only half the available positions.
“The mayor thinks we need to look at having 100 percent of the officers be Metro employees at what is Metro’s stadium,” Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips says. “We need to sit down and talk about the issues. It sounds like their issue is an economic one, and our issue is a public safety one.”
Phillips says that officers from different jurisdictions sometimes have trouble working togethera belief echoed by Metro’s top officer in charge of security for the Titans. Capt. Richard Briggance assigns and supervises off-duty Metro officers on behalf of the Titans’ private security firm. He says that while neighboring police officers are not in any way incompetent, they are nevertheless unfamiliar with various Metro procedures. Also, they have no arrest authority against people in violation of Metro statutes. Moreover, because they have different police radios, out-of-county officers can’t relay security problems as easily as Metro officers can.
“Communication is a big problem,” Briggance says. “It makes a big difference if you have all Metro police officers there who know the system.”
In fact, Briggance notes that officers from other counties can’t make arrests without Metro officers accompanying them to the booking facility downtown. That can make for a logistical nightmare. During this year’s Monday Night Football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, security officials had to evict or arrest up to 30 fans for unruly behavior. Fortunately, the stadium’s security handled that without a hitch. Most games produce only one or two arrests tops.
“Really, we’ve been lucky. Nothing has happened,” Briggance says.
Steve Underwood, vice president and general counsel for the Titans, also notes that while the team does have more security officers from outside the city, it has not meant jeopardizing safety. And, he says, the franchise would like to do business with Metro, but it doesn’t “consider its rates to be competitive.”
For all the talk about the incompatibility between out-of-county officers and Metro’s, the dispute really boils down to money. And last year Metro police officers might have gotten a bit spoiled. Toward the end of the year, the company that provided security at Adelphia abruptly closed shop, leaving the Titans no choice but to turn to the Metro Police Department’s Office of Secondary (OSE) Employment for last-minute aid. The rates are typically far higher than those charged by the private sector. For example, for private employers the OSE charges $37 an hour per officer. The officers get $30 of that, and the rest covers administering the service.
Because of the pricey rates, the Titans decided to enlist a private subcontractor to handle security needs. The new firm charges only $26 an hour per officer. (The officers get $20 of that.) And now if Metro officers want security gigs at Adelphia, they have to go outside the department.
Underwood says Titans officials plan to meet with the mayor’s office in the very near future in hopes that the franchise and the city can forge some kind of understanding.
“Our strong preference is to use Metro exclusively,” Underwood says. “And as long as they’re competitive on price and terms, we will. In our experience, however, they have not been.”
And that experience might not be changing anytime soon. Last week, Police Chief Emmett Turner unveiled a new secondary employment policy that will most likely unravel Titans security practices once again. Under the proposed policy, which is being reviewed by both the mayor’s office and the city’s legal department, police officers won’t be allowed to work for private employers unless they do so through the department’s Office of Secondary Employment. (There are some exceptions, but they aren’t likely to apply to the Titans.)
In other words, if the policy goes into effect without any major changes, the Titans organization will face a rather stark choice: It can continue doing business with the private firm, which would probably prevent the hiring of Metro police officers. Or the team can go through the Office of Secondary Employment and pay the higher rates. Of course, the department has publicly said it would like to lower those rates, but don’t expect it to suddenly become competitive with private companies.
City officials recognize the Titans’ dilemmaeven if they’re not entirely sympathetic. “The new policy is a work in progress, and we’re going to have to feel our way and find a happy medium,” Vice Mayor Ronnie Steine says. “The city has to realize that the Titans are running a private business. But I would also advise the Titans to do whatever they can to cooperate with Metro.”
If Titans officials choose not to do that, expect them to feel not only Purcell’s wrath but that of many Metro Council members as well. After all, they might not be pleased if Bud Adams shuns the city’s employees in light of the city’s public financing for the stadium.
“Our police officers need to work just like anybody else,” Council member Tony Derryberry says. “If we took the time to build the stadium, Bud Adams should take the time to pay Metro officers.”
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