Cleveland police union opposes private security work

The rank-and-file Cleveland police union has urged its members to stop working part-time jobs in which they are paid by private-security companies to patrol city parks, pools, recreation centers and streets.

Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said the union opposes the practice for many of the same reasons it opposed the city hiring security guards at the airport and the same reasons sanitation workers opposed private crews cleaning downtown streets.

"It's privatizing our jobs," Loomis said. "This is an intolerable and unsafe situation which must be stopped immediately."

City officials said using off-duty officers offers residents an added layer of protection.

Officers performed off-duty work last summer on city properties, but more officers have been recruited this year, Loomis said. Now, they patrol portions of Kinsman Road, Broadview and Pearl roads and Lorain and Detroit avenues, he said.

But the officers usually work alone and don't have their police radios. Loomis said that puts their lives in danger.

More than 600 police officers have worked part-time jobs at 1,033 locations. But Safety Director Martin Flask said he is not aware of any private firms patrolling city streets.

Several city councilmen said that off-duty officers work in business and commercial districts and at pools, parks and other places where large groups of people, especially children, gather.

Flask said that off-duty officers don't have the same ability to communicate as on-duty officers but that officers have been working for community groups for more than a decade.

"They provide a level of security and concern that the city cannot provide," he said.

Loomis offered another reason last week for officers to avoid the part-time work. The union lost a grievance for an officer who was working part time at an apartment complex when he shot and killed a teenager. The teen was a theft suspect, and he had tried to run over the officer.

The city refused to represent the officer in a civil suit, although prosecutors ruled the shooting was justified. City officials said the officer was working a secondary job on private property, not for the city, when the incident occurred.

"We expect to be sued sometimes," Loomis said, "but we don't expect the city to wash their hands of us."

Several council members spend thousands of dollars from community development corporations to pay the private security companies, which in turn pay the off-duty police officers.

Councilman Zack Reed said it's better to have police officers in private-security cars than security guards patrolling business districts. He said he will continue to use the security companies as long as they hire police officers.

Councilman Brian Cummins said that he supports the police union but that residents have safety concerns.

He said $25,000 from a social-service fund would be spent on private security in Brooklyn Centre and Old Brooklyn neighborhoods this summer.

Police work is not being privatized when off-duty officers work at recreation centers and commercial districts, Councilman Jay Westbrook said.

Residents are safer and businesses remain in the city when they see police in public areas, he said.

"Mr. Loomis is out of touch with the public," Westbrook said.