DOJ: MPD off-duty work system undermines supervision
‘The officer keeps all the compensation. The city gets nothing.’
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the results of a federal investigation into racist policing in Minneapolis on Friday, June 16, 2023. Photo by H. Jiahong Pan/Minnesota Reformer
The Minneapolis Police Department’s off-duty work system is poorly managed and undermines supervision, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in its recent investigation into the department’s policing practices.
MPD allows its officers to do off-duty security work for private entities like bars, clubs, the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, grocery stores and banks. Some guard construction sites.
The officers are usually in full uniform and using a squad car, if available.
A supervisor must sign off on the off-duty work, and the officers’ primary responsibility remains to MPD, but MPD doesn’t manage the jobs.
The DOJ said off-duty employment undermines supervision of officers because patrol officers manage disbursement of the lucrative jobs, deciding who gets the work — including supervisors. That creates a disincentive for supervisors to hold those officers accountable for misconduct, the DOJ said.
A 2019 city audit of off-duty MPD work also noted this troubling arrangement, saying the scheduling officer could have inordinate influence over other officers, including their supervisors.
The city incurs other costs: “MPD allows officers to use its squad cars (and gas), and the officer keeps all the compensation,” the DOJ reported. “The city gets nothing.”
MPD covers off-duty work liability insurance — unlike some departments, which require outside employers to share the cost — and other operational costs.
The side jobs also worsen MPD’s staffing problems because the work can pay significantly more — up to $150 to $175 per hour — than working overtime for MPD.
Last year, an MPD spokesman defended the arrangement, saying it benefits “residents, businesses and visitors.”
“Among them are the obvious benefits of having additional eyes and ears on the streets beyond scheduled patrol and other sworn officers,” he said. “In short, these situations allow for more officers in the area.”
Officers sometimes rack up dozens of off-duty hours: The city audit found nearly 100 officers worked more than the city’s 64-hour work limit at least five times in 2018. The off-duty work doesn’t count toward officers’ pension benefits, unlike overtime.
Officers are working those off-duty hours despite an ongoing police staffing shortage.
Last summer, a police lieutenant struggling to cover the downtown precinct night shift said cops can make two to four times as much money doing off-duty work for private companies.
About 300 officers have left the department since George Floyd’s 2020 murder, which led to an overtime spike that has pumped up police pay. Seven out of 10 MPD officers made six figures last year, with the top earner making over $390,000.
Studies show working too much can cause fatigue, which can heighten pre-existing biases, increase complaints and use-of-force incidents, impair driving performance, and erode performance of routine skills.
Fatigued officers also tend to use more sick leave, suffer more accidental injuries, and experience more difficulty dealing with people.
Former police officer Mohamed Noor had just finished a seven-hour shift moonlighting as a security guard when he clocked in for his 10-hour police shift on the night he shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk in south Minneapolis. Noor had just 90 minutes off before beginning the shift.
After that, Council Vice President Linea Palmisano, who represents the area where Ruszczyk was killed, spearheaded the 2019 audit of off-duty work. She’d been eager to dig into the issue for years. The long hours raise wellness and liability concerns, she said at the time.
Palmisano said Tuesday changes to off-duty work need to be negotiated in the police labor contract.
Previous attempts to rein in off-duty work in 1994 and 1997 stalled, even after a judge ordered the city to pay out a record-setting million dollars after an off-duty policing incident. Lt. Michael Sauro, who had a litany of misconduct complaints against him, kicked and beat a handcuffed college student in a bar kitchen on New Year’s Eve 1990. Sauro stayed on the force until 2016.
In the wake of the 2019 audit, Mayor Jacob Frey launched a task force in January 2020 to examine off-duty work.
The task force met twice and “basically dissolved,” Palmisano said. Frey’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara told a council committee during an interview for the job that he had concerns about the lack of policies governing off-duty work.
MPD didn’t respond to a request for an interview with O’Hara.
In January, the Minneapolis City Council voted to review off-duty work, including how officers get the gigs, what rates are paid and how it affects city staffing.
Council Member Robin Wonsley authored the legislative directive and told the Reformer her office is working on a policy that would charge businesses fees to recoup costs the city incurs by allowing the off-duty work.
Officers can be paid in cash for off-duty work — it’s preferred by some employers and officers, increasing the risk of fraud or tax evasion, according to the MPD audit.
Derek Chauvin, the former MPD officer convicted of murdering Floyd, pleaded guilty to tax fraud for underreporting his off-duty income. Chauvin was charged with failing to report $96,000 in cash payments for his off-duty security work at a bar called El Nuevo Rodeo from 2014 to 2019.
El Nuevo Rodeo owner Maya Santamaria told the Star Tribune in August 2020 that Chauvin was a “warlord” who doled out off-duty jobs and demanded higher pay than the other officers. She said businesses were required to hire the off-duty officers to meet licensing requirements.
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