If there is one common thread to the litany of controversies within the Metro Police Department over the past few years, it’s the thorny issue of off-duty employment. From their associations with shady private security companies to their tendency to sometimes work private jobs while on the department clock, police officers often have stumbled when they’ve ventured outside the controlled confines of the public sector.
So when Metro Police Department officials recently announced that the new proposal regulating off-duty work essentially would mandate supervision from the department itself, the acclaim was loud and swift. It also may have been premature. Not only might the department’s proposal face revisions from the Metro Law Department, it might also endure heated criticism from local security companies, police officers, and businesses as prominent as the Tennessee Titans.
Under the proposal, all police officers who want to work off-duty security jobs must go through the department’s Office of Secondary Employment. No longer can they work for private firms.
“We’ll know who’s where, how much they’re working, and how they got the job,” Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips says.
But even if the policy brings needed oversight to off-duty work, it also gives birth to an 800-pound gorilla. Under the new proposal, the department’s Office of Secondary Employmentwhich currently has a two-person staffwill essentially become its own security company. But it will have an obviously unfair advantage over its private sector rivals: It can employ Metro police officers, and they can’t.
Local security companies are waiting until the final policy is unveiled, but they are already considering legal challenges against it. “We’re evaluating our options,” says Jim Murphy, an attorney for Advanced Protective Services (APS) and, ironically, the former Metro law director. It’s not clear how viable those options are. In general, however, it’s difficult to sue government agencies on anti-trust grounds. And even if they were to file an equal protection complaint, Metro would probably argue that the Police Department has the right to set internal policies.
“We’re not trying to create a monopoly situation,” says Metro Law Director Karl Dean, noting that his attorneys are still reviewing the plan’s legal ramifications. “But when government property like badges and guns and radio equipment are being used, we have the right to make restrictions on how secondary employment is done.”
But just the same, local businesses have the right to hire whomever they want to provide security. And since the new policy in effect narrows their market options, they might decide to choose private firms over Metro police officers.
The Tennessee Titans are a case in point. Currently, the NFL franchise relies on APS to provide security at home games and other events at Adelphia Coliseum. The company has a good record with the Titans. Over the course of 22 events at Adelphia, APS security officers have made fewer than 10 arrestsan impressive number considering nearly a million people, most of them frenzied sports fans, have walked through the gates during that time. Meanwhile, the company charges between $10 and $22 per hour less than Metro’s Office of Secondary Employment.
To work the Titans games, APS relies on an equal mix of Metro officers and police officers from neighboring counties. But under the new proposal, the company will have to employ officers exclusively from other jurisdictions. The Titans now will be faced with a choice fraught with both economic and public relations implications. The franchise either can ditch a company it’s happy with and work with what amounts to a pricier start-upthe newly expanded Office of Secondary Employment. Or it can retain APS and use only out-of-county officers to work at a stadium financed in large part by local tax dollars.
Like Titans management, Gaylord Entertainment Center officials also might be faced with a tough choice. “We’re weighing our options,” says Mike Wooley, assistant general manager of the GEC. Wooley says the police department rates simply are “not competitive.” Metro officials insist that they plan to look into lowering the cost of providing security, but few think the city will ever be competitive with private companies.
If businesses as big as the Titans franchise and the Gaylord Entertainment Center are concerned about Metro’s pricey rates, smaller businesses such as jewelry stores and nightclubs will become worried too. If they decide to keep working with private firms, that would shut out more Metro police officers from off-duty work. In short, the new policy’s greatest effect on secondary employment might be reducing it rather than regulating it.
That’s why advocates for police officers have concerns about the new policy. “Some small businesses might not be able to afford the rates the Office of Secondary Employment is charging, and therefore, there might not be as many jobs available for police out there,” says David Raybin, an attorney for the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. “I think it only makes sense that if you run a business you should be able to hire police officers, and the police should do whatever it can to encourage secondary employment.”
Of course, it’s a stretch to say that the police department should encourage off-duty work. But if it discourages it, the department and Mayor Bill Purcell will have to contend with an angry police force that has long counted on off-duty work to supplement its government paychecks. Add that disgruntled contingency to small businesses, local security companies, and Titans owner Bud Adams, and the politically sensitive Purcell administration might be adding to its enemies list. That’s why the new proposal probably will be watered down. And it could leave us closer to where we started.
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