Phoenix area police off-duty work gets little agency oversight
by JJ Hensley
Mar. 17, 2012
Maricopa County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Trowbridge said he felt obliged to obey a lieutenant’s command to take part in a four-hour photo shoot in December 2010.
The photo shoot was set up to promote Lt. Travis Anglin’s side business, which uses off-duty sheriff’s deputies to provide security services to Valley businesses and executives, department reports show.
The shoot at the home of one of Anglin’s clients included frames of Trowbridge in his patrol car. He was on duty throughout, later telling investigators he grew anxious as emergency calls went out in his area.
Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic
Anglin was demoted after that and other incidents, but he still operates his private-security company using off-duty deputies.
Countless officers in the state provide private-security services during their off-duty hours, earning millions of dollars each year patrolling construction sites as well as street fairs and other events. Often, officers run their own firms and employ co-workers and subordinates. They often work in uniform, using taxpayer-funded equipment and vehicles.
For municipalities and policing agencies, these off-duty security jobs can be a benefit and a crime-deterrent, as they result in a greater show of police force on the streets without taxpayers covering the cost of the extra hours. Outside of isolated incidents, few have questioned the work officers do in off-duty patrols.
Numerous recent episodes, though, raised questions about whether policing agencies do enough to track the significant time and money involved in off-duty patrols: Officers have been accused of collecting off-duty pay for patrols they did not perform or performed while on duty, and one officer was murdered during an off-duty job last year. The incidents spurred some agencies to re-evaluate whether they are doing enough to regulate the work.
Cities have an interest in ensuring that outside pay doesn’t compromise officers’ roles as legal enforcers and that officers aren’t working so many hours that they undermine their on-duty abilities.
Law-enforcement experts say many off-duty job arrangements are rife with potential for abuse or misuse of public resources, and they recommend that agencies track the work to limit liability.
An Arizona Republic review of 18 of the state’s largest police agencies shows that many lack adequate systems to track or even be aware of officers’ off-duty jobs, sometimes in spite of the agencies’ own policies that require they limit such work. And for agencies that do track officers’ work closely, that oversight comes with a taxpayer cost.
The examination of policies and employment records showed:
Twelve of the 18 agencies could not account in detail where their officers were working, how many hours they were working or for whom they were working. Only seven could track off-duty payments to officers. Just one-third could provide an exact tally of off-duty hours worked.
Wide variance in off-duty work policies. Some agencies have programs in place that require businesses to reimburse them for off-duty officers’ use of patrol cars and other equipment. Other agencies, like the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, forbid such use, but lack of oversight leaves it open to abuse, often sticking taxpayers with the tab for the use of public equipment like squad cars instead of the businesses that contract for the work.
Departments increasingly are assuming the costs of administering off-duty work programs for their officers in order to get a grip on how many extra hours they are working and to control whom they work for. But that comes at a taxpayer cost. Some departments now control the payroll functions for off-duty officers. The Chandler Police Department goes so far as to include off-duty pay in their officers’ public paychecks, meaning it also counts as salary in their retirement calculations.
A national accreditation group considers it crucial for agencies to monitor off-duty work. “It lends itself to the potential for some sort of corruption,” said Steven Mitchell, a program manager overseeing Arizona law enforcement for the National Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Last year, off-duty work tracked by large agencies around the Valley and state totaled more than 200,000 hours and earned officers more than $4 million. But the true total is unknown because of poor tracking practices.
An increasing number of police agencies and at least one state lawmaker are trying to bring more control to the largely unregulated off-duty police industry following a series of events in the last year involving off-duty Valley police officers.
“You’re using taxpayer-funded vehicles to get to your private-security duties — and the taxpayer shouldn’t be funding it,” said Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale. Gray last year sponsored a bill to bar police officers from acting as private investigators, and she is sponsoring legislation this year that, though currently stalled, would similarly bar officers from operating private-security firms.
“It’s an unfair advantage to any other private security out there,” Gray said. “And when you have a supervisor who owns the security company asking subordinates to do surveillance, that is simply wrong.”
In the last year, other concerns have arisen those some officers working off-duty jobs have been wounded and murdered, criminally indicted and accused of improprieties:
One Buckeye officer was killed and another is still recovering from injuries in a shootout while the two officers were working security at a mercado in southwest Phoenix last spring. Even though the officers were off-duty at the time, Officer Rolando Tirado’s family received a full line-of-duty death benefit because he was taking police action at the time he was killed.
After an investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, three Phoenix police officers and a former officer were indicted in 2010 on suspicion of fraud and theft for alleged roles in a scheme to get paid without performing security work at a south Phoenix housing complex. The case was later sent back to a grand jury, and though charges against the three officers were dropped, the former officer, George Contreras, was reindicted.
Two Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies were placed under internal scrutiny last year as investigators explored the relationship between the deputies, their security companies and work they performed for the Fiesta Bowl. Part of the probe focused on whether the deputies allowed sheriff’s personnel to work the after-hours jobs while they were still on the clock for Maricopa County. The investigation cleared sheriff’s Lt. Aaron Brown, a security-firm owner, of wrongdoing. But it led to Anglin’s demotion after investigators found he had abused his authority and county equipment by sending subordinates on hours-long errands related to his security firm. Investigators said Anglin harassed another subordinate, who also owned a security firm, by trying to get the other deputy to sell his firm to Anglin.
Anglin said last week that he’s proud of the work he’s done with his security firm and that the company allows him to utilize skills he’s gained in law enforcement to fill a need for private businesses and the community.
“The ability and desire for anyone to create and grow a business in this economic time embodies the American, entreprenurial spirit and should be fostered, praised and appreciated,” Anglin wrote in an e-mail. “A peace officer using a knowledge base to create a company does not directly translate to a conflict of interest, it solves problems.”
But the nature of some of problems off-duty work has caused was enough to force some law-enforcement agencies in the Valley to reassess policies governing the work.
Those policies are important to police accreditation organizations, which examine every department’s policies as a part of the accreditation process. Five Valley police agencies — in Chandler, Glendale, Peoria, Scottsdale and Surprise — have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which endorses based on criteria including policies and standards; financial management and oversight; and adherence to constitutional requirements. The agencies reapply for the endorsement every three years.
Accreditation official Mitchell said tight controls on off-duty employment are among the factors considered. Accreditation is viewed as a seal of approval in that it gives taxpayers and other agencies confidence that the organization is well-managed and professional. It also can reduce liability.
“The tighter control they have over it administratively, the better off they are,” Mitchell said. “And if something goes wrong there, you got somebody to point to.”
Accusations of impropriety involving off-duty security work for the Fiesta Bowl were among the factors that prompted the Sheriff’s Office to revisit its off-duty work policies, Deputy Chief Brian Sands said. The agency is examining whether deputies should be allowed to operate private-security firms.
“Do we have a policy failure? I’m not going to say we do,” Sands said.
“What we’re looking at is, is there a propensity to create conflicts like you’re talking about? Already in our policy it says you’re not supposed to do this private business stuff on the job,” he said. “Those kinds of safeguards have been built into this in a lot of areas. We’ve got to look at each one of those areas.”
Experts are careful to note that an outright ban on moonlighting could be as damaging to good law enforcement as bad oversight. The practice, they note, provides an opportunity for uniformed officers in high-traffic and high-crime areas to show their presence and potentially act as a crime deterrent even when they are off-duty.
“If we have businesses out there that notoriously attract problems — it could be Circle Ks or parking lots adjacent to nightclubs — largely, it’s not even the business’ problem, it’s trying to keep control of what’s going on around that business, and that affects the whole neighborhood,” Sands said. “There’s obvious public benefits to all this, and it’s not just trying to get guys employed.”
Buckeye Police Chief Mark Mann said when he took over his agency in 2008, changing the department’s off-duty work policy was among the first items he took to the Town Council. Among the changes Mann implemented was a requirement for off-duty officers to wear their police uniforms when performing security work for private companies.
“We’re doing all that stuff where it brings revenue into the town, but it also shows them that they have that presence, that visibility,” Mann said. “Especially when they’re working like traffic details with ADOT.”
The Republic’s examination of agency policies found inconsistencies in tracking where and how often police officers put in extra hours for private pay.
Surprise police Cmdr. Terry Young said a revised off-duty employment policy could help his department’s administrators increase their oversight of officers.
Right now, the Surprise Police Department relies on supervisors to notice fatigue or other signs that suggest an officer’s off-duty work is affecting on-duty performance.
Young said the department is considering updating its policies with more definitive language that would require supervisor approval of every off-duty job, ensuring that officers obey restrictions that limit them to 24 hours of off-duty work each week.
“The performance of the employees, the conduct of the employees, I mean, we’re not going to let them go perform law-enforcement work anywhere unless we’re comfortable,” Young said. “They have to be fully trained and off of their field-training program. So their performance would be based on how we have trained them to conduct themselves.”
Relying on attentive supervisors and the honor system is not always enough.
The Phoenix Police Department was prompted to scrutinize its administration of the program only after some of its officers were indicted in what was alleged to be an off-duty work scam, and after the department was unable to answer certain questions posed by The Republic about top off-duty employers and wage earners.
“The attorney general’s investigation was the catalyst,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman.
“We lacked sufficient internal controls over the off-duty program to administer the program effectively,” Crump said. “It’s hard to do an audit when you don’t have any data.”
The Phoenix Police Department began developing some of its new off-duty policies — including quarterly reports and regular inspections by supervisors — at about the time that the Attorney General’s Office began investigating allegations of off-duty misconduct by a handful of Phoenix officers. The probe was done at the request of Phoenix’s own internal-affairs investigators, who suspected the potential for criminal charges.
Three active officers and a former colleague were indicted in 2010 amid accusations that they pocketed thousands of dollars for off-duty security work that was never done at a south Phoenix housing complex.
The association that manages the complex near 48th Street and Broadway Road was trying to curtail a years-long crime epidemic. Managers contracted with former Officer George Contreras in 2005 to provide security. The complex’s managers filed a complaint with Phoenix police in 2007 alleging that the “off-duty” security force was actually composed of officers briefly checking while still on duty.
The case was sent back to a grand jury in July after a judge found that certain initial testimony might have violated the officers’ due-process rights. Contreras, who has denied wrongdoing, was the only one reindicted in November on fraud and racketeering charges.
The state’s investigation showed that as many as 25 other Phoenix officers were taking money for off-duty hours not worked. Investigative reports indicate they were not formally charged because the amounts involved were minor compared with the cases of officers who were originally indicted.
Crump said the agency’s internal investigation is ongoing. Some of the officers could still be found to have violated office policy, but there are no active officers who are suspected of criminal conduct related to security work at the condominiums.
“We’re not finding, across the board, what I would characterize as misconduct among those officers,” he said.
Monitoring can be costly
As agencies revisit their policies, they — and taxpayers — may find that instituting tighter controls comes at a cost.
The Peoria Police Department, for example, spent $180,000 on a computer system in 2006 to help manage its payroll. The system also makes automatic calls to officers about off-duty assignments, ensuring all officers have equal access to off-duty work instead of allowing a few employees to dole out assignments to favored co-workers or for favored off-duty employers.
It is a trade-off of sorts. Departments seem increasingly willing to spend public money to more carefully oversee off-duty employment of their officers — even providing payroll and accounting services for off-duty work through their departments — if it allows them to ward off abuses and to carefully monitor whom their officers work for and how much extra time they put in.
Phoenix police added new policies and upgraded the department’s technology after the attorney general’s investigation prompted a review. The department in 2009 instituted a policy that prohibits an officer from taking a lump sum from an off-duty employer and dispersing it to other officers who performed the work, said Lt. Tony Lopez, the department’s employment-services bureau coordinator.
In addition, the department requires officers to log in with dispatchers when they report for off-duty job work. It also created an off-duty database that requires dispatchers to enter the information for reports that supervisors review.
In Tempe and Chandler, departments administer payment for off-duty work, which can allow off-duty pay to count toward government retirements. Cities generally justify such costs as part of their oversight role; government watchdogs may disagree.
“It certainly should not count toward the amount of an officer’s pension,” said Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. “This is totally private.”
Many agencies designate employees to coordinate off-duty work as part of their official assignment. But that does not always ensure adequate oversight.
The Surprise Police Department, for example, administers off-duty employment using computer programs and a collection of employees whose duties include coordination of off-duty work. Yet Young said the agency is unable to tell The Republic who the city’s most frequent off-duty employer is or which of its officers earned the most off-duty pay.
Young said private vendors schedule much of the off-duty police work for Surprise officers, and there were too many of them to track.
That was news to Mitchell, whose national association accredits Surprise as a police agency.
“We require the agencies to authorize and control (off-duty work),” Mitchell said. “If our assessors were there and they had a hard time finding records, they would have an issue with us.”
Surprise’s example notwithstanding, Mitchell said he believes centralized control of off-duty work makes sense, even when there is a taxpayer cost.
“From CALEA’s point of view, you want central control over what’s going on there — the officers are working the authorized amount of hours, for example, and their behavior on the job has some supervision going on there — all the typical administrative things you would want,” he said. “If they dedicate a person full time to do that, so be it.”
By contrast, the lack of reliable internal controls in agencies like the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office makes it nearly impossible for supervisors to enforce off-duty work policies, including those designed to keep deputies from working more than 24 hours each week in an off-duty capacity.
At The Republic’s request, the Sheriff’s Office produced more than 6,000 off-duty work permits filed by employees during the past five years. Sheriff’s deputies are supposed to seek approval for every off-duty job by filing a permit with their supervisors that includes employer name, insurance information, location and hours.
An examination of those records showed that deputies often simply wrote “varies” in the field where they were supposed to list the hours they worked or planned to work. Those permits were often valid for six months, leaving supervisors to trust that deputies were following the office’s loosely enforced policy.
Some of those who did list their hours accurately were clearly in violation of the agency’s policies. For example, Deputy Jeff Hanson filed permits several times a year showing he put in 40 hours a week working security at a Cave Creek arts festival after working 30 hours that week as a sheriff’s deputy. He was clearly in violation of agency policy limiting weekly off-duty work to 24 hours.
“That’s a supervisor’s failure there,” Sands, the sheriff’s spokesman, said. “If a sergeant has five to nine people working for him, he’s got to manage all their scheduling.”
Sands said there are benefits to the community when off-duty deputies and officers work at venues, such as Chase Field, because it allows the team or venue to pay the costs of having a professional police force.
“The side benefit is, our deputies earn a little bit of additional money, which they all need,” Sands said.
Anglin told the sheriff’s internal investigators his company, which recruited fellow deputies to work security jobs, grossed about $600,000 in fiscal 2010. The deputy Anglin was found to have harassed about selling his security company told investigators his business grossed between $150,000 and $200,000 a year depending on demand.
Fiesta Bowl records show payments to a company run by Brown, another sheriff’s lieutenant, started at $62,000 a year in 2005 and peaked at $500,000 a year in fiscal 2010. At that point, bowl officials terminated their contract with Brown’s company and began their own internal investigation into bowl spending.
A balance sought
Agencies re-examining their policies hope to balance the need for more control against the freedom of law-enforcement personnel to pursue off-duty work.
“We don’t want to bring in a policy that prevents guys from working off-duty, because that doesn’t do anybody any good,” Sands said.
Control, Sands said, should rest in the hands of a third party who cannot benefit from the largesse of off-duty employment, a conflict that has led to allegations of corruption in other agencies around the country.
“What you don’t want to have is one guy flagging all the off-duty jobs,” Sands said. “He becomes an illegitimate power broker.”
Sen. Gray sees the danger of creating illegitimate power brokers in law-enforcement personnel who occupy dual roles of police officer and security-firm owner. A legislative solution could be on the horizon, she said.
“It is a conflict of interest. Part of that is that if you’re a private investigator, you also, as a law-enforcement officer, have access to taxpayer-funded equipment,” she said. “There’s a demand for certified police officers to work off-duty, and that’s what it should be: off-duty.”