Unlike in Seattle, Portland’s off-duty police hours are tracked and limited
While the FBI investigates Seattle police for years of chronic and potentially criminal mismanagement of officers’ off-duty hours, a nearby department has become a national model for the effective administration of moonlighting cops’ time: Portland.
Seattle’s sister city to the south doesn’t allow off-duty cops to contract through private companies for extra money from security or traffic control jobs. Instead, off-duty hours are managed through the police department and city itself. Hours are restricted and paid through city payroll. And every business in town is charged the same rate for off-duty police time.
Officer Tom Perkins, a 28-year-veteran of Portland’s police department, said that city’s police officers’ work is carefully watched from the moment a company decides it wants to hire off-duty officers.
“We work with the city to manage all of it,” Perkins said. “We are required to.”
In Seattle, off-duty police officers generally work through private, cop-run companies such as Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security who control much of the market for lucrative, part-time hours in parking garages, sporting venues and construction sites. The current federal investigation centers on claims by local businesses that employees of those staffing companies have used strong-arm tactics to secure off-duty work contracts; that they overcharge and price-fix; and that they hide payments and don’t track hours, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
In Portland, when a business owner or manager wants to hire an off-duty cop, he or she calls the police department. The officers’ union determines the specifics of the request – number of officers, the location and number of hours needed — and it creates a contract, Perkins said. It then sends the contract to the precinct commander who oversee that region of the city. The precinct commander – who is not a union member – then approves or rejects the contract.
If approved, it is sent to the business owner or manager for his or her signature. The contract then is returned to the union where the job is posted for interested officers.
“It comes back to my office,” Perkins said. “And I post the job on my website. Officers go on our website and if they want to work, they sign up and say they are interested in working.”
The website – the Portland Police Department developed its own software – then automatically ranks officers based on when they last had off-duty work. This allows officers without recent off-duty work to get to the front of the line, Perkins said.
“And then I will select the officer,” he said.
When the job is completed, the cop will fill out a standard overtime form and submit it to the department. The overtime hours are added to their checks. The department, through the city, then bills the customer.
All Portland police get paid the same, top-scale overtime rate of $62-an-hour for off-duty work, Perkins said. The city, in turn, bills every customer the identical rate of $86.70 an hour, according to city records. The extra fees cover insurance, workers compensation, use of the patrol car and processing of the contract, Perkins said.
Unlike Seattle, the number of off-duty hours are limited to an additional 20 hours of off-duty work weekly, under Portland Police Department regulations. (The PPD will allow more than 20 hours if the officer is off and not working regular hours on a given week.) Perkins said more than half of the 870 officers in the department regularly sign up for off-duty work.
Seattle police administrators declined to comment on any comparisons with Portland’s police department. Privately, they have acknowledged the off-duty problem and blame it, in part, on the Police Officer’s Guild’s historic resistance to tracking off-duty hours. In a press release last week, Chief Katherine O’Toole said her department will work with federal authorities.