Concerned about police officer exhaustion and burnout, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other leaders are looking for new ways to rein in the department's off-duty employment program.
A task force was announced at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday morning. It will be headed by Frey, Arradondo, council members Linea Palmisano, Alondra Cano and Steve Fletcher, and Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, vice president of the Police Federation.
"We have the ability now through technology to really track this, to let the data better help inform us as it relates to public safety," Arradondo said at the news conference, adding that community members do not discern whether an officer in uniform is working for the city or a private business.
Fatigue is a real concern for officers taking on second jobs. Frey pointed to research showing that overwork affects decisionmaking and performance for anyone, not just cops.
No deadline was given by which the task force would submit its findings. Its formation comes amid a citywide debate over the allocation of police resources.
The idea of rewriting the rules governing off-duty employment by city officers was raised last fall, after an internal audit criticized the department for lax oversight of the practice.
Fletcher, whose ward includes portions of downtown, said it could create the perception of the potential for fraud, saying the practice inherently creates ethical "gray areas."
"There's a general concern I think about the extent to which off-duty work is accountable given the power that we give to officers," he said. "The tension becomes, 'Who's your obligation to, if you're being paid by this business?' "
It's a common practice for businesses to hire officers to deal with unruly patrons at bar-close or to direct rush-hour traffic, in uniform and using police vehicles. But, unlike other large departments, Minneapolis has for years lacked any formal system for tracking how many hours off-duty officers were working. Work guidelines allow officers to negotiate their own off-duty assignments after first gaining approval from a supervisor. That approval was often verbal and made in informal settings, making it tough for officials to keep track of who was working where and for how long, the audit found.
Oversight has improved in recent months, department officials said, but they're still not able to say with certainty how many of the department's officers are working as security guards at banks, sports arenas, nightclubs and other establishments across the city.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Kjos on Wednesday put the figure at more than half of the force, but added that the number of off-duty hours worked varies widely by officer. Under current rules, the number of hours that officers can work, both on- and off-duty, is capped at 64 a week. But the audit found officers regularly exceeded that total.
St. Paul, on the other hand, has long restricted off-duty police work to 24 hours per week, with no immediate plans to change the policy.
Any changes to Minneapolis' policy are likely to face backlash from officers and, to some extent, business owners, who have grown accustomed to the informal system of handshake agreements, which could be scheduled conveniently and were often more lucrative.
Schmidt, of the police union — which has historically opposed efforts to limit off-duty work — said the federation agrees in principle with what city officials are trying to accomplish, but she pointed out that the audit failed to capture a "complete picture" of off-duty work in the city.
The task force is part of a larger effort to determine how many officers a fast-growing city like Minneapolis should have. A committee of city officials and community members was formed last year to study alternatives to police involvement to certain 911 calls, while another group will soon conduct a "staffing and efficiency" study, similar to one that St. Paul recently completed.
The audit argued for changing the current system to one that automatically flagged cops who went over the allowed hours, with chronic offenders potentially facing discipline.
Palmisano, the South Side council member who asked for last fall's audit, said there are pros and cons to any option, saying that a move to a centralized system for off-duty work could create new headaches, including increasing the city's pension liabilities. The costs to businesses would also likely go up, she said.
In some ways, she said, the city encouraged the practice through licensing regulations that require a police presence at everything from construction work sites to neighborhood festivals.
"A lot of this work … is really about looking at ourselves in the mirror," she said, adding that she expects the task force to work with the Park Board and Regulatory Services to address those issues.
She added that while the task force must submit its recommendations in time for next year's budget deliberations, the group's work could continue through the end of the year.
It's unclear whether barring or restricting the practice is legal or will be allowed under the next police labor contract, which is being negotiated.
Previous efforts to regulate off-duty work rules have been unsuccessful.
In 1994, then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, railing against what she called a "shadow police force," unveiled a controversial program that put officers' off-duty work under the department's direct control and provided additional liability protection for the city if those cops get into trouble.