Moonlighting Police Officers Can Complicate What It Means To Be Full-Time Public Servant

Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 4:27pm
Updated: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 8:45am
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ )
Tempe Police Department Sgt. Steve Carbajal's police vehicle sits outside the Marquee Theatre in Tempe while he works an off-duty security job.

A recent survey of policing in America shows hundreds of thousands of officers put in millions of hours every year moonlighting. But working part-time, private, off-duty security jobs can complicate what it means to be a full-time public servant.

At the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Arizona, Sgt. Steve Carbajal looks on as people go through security before a concert.

“People come and have a good time,” Carbajal said. “It’s a smaller venue. It’s a different vibe. Some kind of like, not your necessarily main stream bands ya know?”

Carbajal is works off-duty security to supplement his day job as an officer with the Tempe Police Department. He makes $60 an hour, and he said it’s a pretty easy going crowd.

Carbajal got the job through an off-duty coordinator at the Tempe Police Department. Sg.t Josie Montenegro points to a screen in her office at Tempe police headquarters where she has logged in to look at what’s available.

“Here’s the jobs,” she said scrolling down a long spreadsheet. “So for Monday, there’s three jobs posted here.”

Montenegro said the off-duty work is so popular that the department doles out the jobs with a lottery system. It’s like a bonus or an added incentive for officers “especially if they have a young family or ... they want to buy a house,” she said.

Regardless of what they use the money for, a lot of cops take advantage of the chance for extra income. University of South Carolina legal scholar Seth Stoughton recently completed a survey of off-duty police work.

“As many as 300,000 may be putting in more than 43 million hours working for private employers every year,” Stoughton said. He believes this increasing trend poses questions about cops using public resources for private gain. “You have someone who was hired and trained and equipped with tax payer dollars.”

Stoughton also found significant variations in policy across the country. For instance, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in California does not allow its officers to work off-duty security. Lt. Mark Stichter said their policy prevents internal conflict.

“The lines would be gray between ‘are you acting in your responsibility, in your role as a full time law enforcement officer or as a security officer of a, you know, private interest?’” Stichter said.

But Stoughton found the majority of departments allow moonlighting. “It raises a pretty fundamental question about what policing is. Is it public? Is it private? Or is it some mix of the two? He said for many officers, the answer depends on what day it is and who’s paying.

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