Pittsburgh Making Money on Police Officers' Side Jobs

Three months after the city of Pittsburgh began imposing a fee for the use of off-duty police, the money is rolling in.

Neither businesses, police, nor civil libertarians are entirely happy with the system, though, and it has veered from its stated purpose of building a fund to cover city liabilities.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's decision to impose a $3.85 an hour charge on businesses that hire off-duty police, on top of the $38.54 the officer usually commands, was spurred by an expensive settlement.

The city paid Florida resident Deven W. Werling and his attorney, Timothy O'Brien, $200,000 to settle a police brutality case related to a 2004 incident involving Sgt. Mark A. Eggleton as he provided security at the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland.

The $3.85 fee, imposed starting April 9, has raised money. The city has billed for 45,463 hours of officer time. The exact amount received by the city was not available Friday, but it should approach $175,000.

In a June letter, the Fraternal Order of Police asked the mayor to place the money in an account to cover lawsuits or injury claims rooted in police side work. That hasn't happened.

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."

He'd also like to see the city raise the 30-hour-a-week limit on the amount of time officers can work side jobs. A 38-hour-a-week cap would allow officers to work evenings after work, and both of their days off, he noted.

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.

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.

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."

Many businesses, though, say they need the private schedulers to ensure they get the officers they want.

"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.

The Pirates, likewise, are using a private scheduler, and smarting over the city's charge.

The team incurred $6,127 in surcharges last month, according to Chief McDonald. That would indicate some 1,590 hours of police protection, making the team the bureau's top client, edging out National City Bank and Giant Eagle.

"We have cut back on the overall number of officers we will use this season," said team Senior Director of Communications Brian Warecki. "We have made the necessary adjustments with internal personnel in order to maintain the same level of security and safety for our fans."

Mr. Malloy said his union has heard similar complaints from Heinz Field management. If the facility manager or the Steelers ask, the union will join them in requesting a reduction of the fee, he said.

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.' "