The recent editorial commenting on increased security costs for non-city events in St. Paul failed to provide an accurate picture ("Don't cancel St. Paul summer fun," May 5).
Prior to the late 1970s and early 1980s, police officers would often supplement their incomes with "off-duty" jobs, wearing their uniforms, using city equipment and, most importantly, exercising peace officer powers. The officers, cities and job sponsors believed the officers had powers that belonged to the individual and that they were police officers 24 hours a day, anywhere. Therefore, they could do what they wanted with the powers and reap the profits.
Off-duty officers would work at local banks, high school football games, community festivals, church assemblies, bars, retail stores and construction sites. The officers would be paid directly, many times in cash. The police chief and IRS were none the wiser.
This led to "brokers" getting established. These were police officers who obtained the requests from community organizations, entered into formal or informal contracts with the groups, and then hired officers to work the events. Interested officers, including the broker's supervisors, would work through the broker in order to share the wealth.
Different officers or brokers might charge a wide variety of fees with no sound basis. In some cases, the broker might also provide a wide range of extra policing favors to the outside organizer to keep the requests flowing.
This system corrupted the chain of command, blurred roles and raised serious operational questions.
Such a system is analogous to a city snowplow driver going out and soliciting business while on the city clock, and then getting paid in cash to use the city's vehicle to plow non-city parking lots. Minimally, the city would fire such a driver and maybe even press charges. Citizens would not tolerate it.
But just as in the snowplow analogy, the former system of off-duty police work meant the taxpayers' assets — equipment, uniforms, computer access, vehicles and, above all, peace officer powers — were being used by private organizations for their own benefit, at the discretion of individual officers or brokers, but not city leadership.
Over the past 40 years, many departments changed from the above methods to the "supplemental police services" model. This trend grew from a series of tragic off-duty employment incidents including a suburban officer who was shot and killed working in an adjoining jurisdiction in his home department's uniform. He and his home department's administration thought he'd be considered a peace officer there — he was not.
The transition was also accelerated by court cases, law changes, labor decisions, and the implementation of the Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training Board — the state's police licensing entity.
As a result of a labor law decision, the city of Bloomington became the first to implement the model of third parties contracting with the city and not with individual police officers. It was recognized that officers had no authority to enter into these contracts.
This "supplemental police services" model makes good public policy because it ensures that the city, as the contracting party and the source of the peace officer's powers, has full knowledge when and how these powers are being used. Also there is proper compensation for officers' time and city equipment. This arrangement protects the officers, city and the contracting group by clarifying liability issues. Most importantly, it safeguards the integrity of the city, police department and its employees.
Up until two years ago, I was aware of only two Minnesota departments still using the broker system: Minneapolis and St. Paul. To the credit of the police chief, the union and city officials, the St. Paul Police Department is in the final stages of implementing the "supplemental police services" model. Even though it took four decades, it is still good public policy.
It permits the police administration to review the request for supplemental police services, determine how any assignment may impact the delivery of primary police services, and reassures taxpayers their money is going to fund the primary services and not the policing of private businesses, religious events, athletic events and nongovernmental organizations.
St. Paul city officials must finish the full implementation of the "supplemental police services" model. It will allow the city to regain full ownership of peace officer powers and it will keep the police front and center focusing on their primary constituents, the general public, preventing crime and enforcing the general criminal laws of the state.
William Carter III, of St. Paul, is a public policy researcher.