Months before Minneapolis talked about defunding its Police Department, City Hall leaders were looking to tame the patchwork management of off-duty police work run mostly outside official channels.
Officers who moonlight as security guards around town in many of the most prominent posts — at bars, schools, stadiums and managing traffic at parking garages — aren’t being paid by the city. They’re in uniform, driving around MPD squads and carrying guns — all while getting paid by private employers.
Council Member Linea Palmisano is intent on reining in the loosely regulated systems, saying that some officers work exceptionally long hours, which raises health and liability concerns.
“To look at this from the lens of wellness, it’s like we can’t go and make people, you can’t set a bedtime for police officers, but they’re employees that carry guns, that can take away people’s rights, and they can do a lot of harm,” she said, pointing to research showing that overwork affects decisions and performance.
The system has faced scrutiny for at least 30 years. In the 1990s, former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and then-Police Chief Robert Olson tried to limit the off-duty gigs, but the union took Sayles Belton to court and won. That unsuccessful attempt came after a jury awarded a man $1.1 million in damages from the city after an off-duty officer beat him at a bar on New Year’s Eve 1990.
Now, some groups are wary of using off-duty Minneapolis officers after the killing of George Floyd on May 25. The Minneapolis school system ended its use of officers to patrol hallways and break up fights. Entities like museums and music venues did the same. And others, including the Minnesota Twins and the Vikings, are taking a look at the arrangement.
For now, the off-duty work has dried up because the new coronavirus pandemic has limited public gatherings, and Palmisano said a review of the practice is on hold for at least a couple of months.
Until the pandemic hit, Palmisano was part of a city task force assembled in the wake of an internal audit that criticized the department for lax oversight of the practice. But the group has met only twice, and its work has gone on the back burner as many business owners are focused on staying afloat since the pandemic and after the unrest that followed Floyd’s death.
The Twins announced they are sticking with the Minneapolis police for this season, but issued a public statement saying they will review the practice after this year. The Vikings are in private discussions between police officials, executives and players. The arrangement remains in place for the upcoming NFL season.
“We are taking a hard look at what they provide in terms of service, what’s going on in the community and the expectations we, along with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and ASM Global,” which run the stadium, have for them, team vice president Lester Bagley said. “No one is telling us to fire them; they’re telling us to take a hard look and to the extent possible hold them accountable.”
At smaller venues, the loose arrangement can create tension.
When she ran her former nightclub, El Nuevo Rodeo, Maya Santamaria said she thought that since-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck and now stands charged with murder, was partly in charge of doling out off-duty assignments in the Third Precinct. She said he decided who worked which nights — a role known as a “warlord” in MPD parlance — and that he insisted on being paid more than others for his efforts. Tax-evasion charges filed against Chauvin last month revealed that he made $96,000 from his off-duty work at El Nuevo Rodeo in a five-year span.
At first, Santamaria said officers agreed to work for $45 an hour in cash, but that changed when she decided to pay them with checks and declare the payments on her taxes. Then, she said, the price rose to $50, and later $55.
She said she had to comply, since businesses like hers were required to employ off-duty officers to meet the city’s licensing requirements.
“They strong-armed me about the money, and I didn’t really have a choice, because the city makes you work with them; and it’s like if you want your liquor license, this is what you’re doing,” she said. “I felt trapped in general by the whole entire business situation.”
Snapshot of the process
The U.S. Bank Stadium operation illustrates how off-duty jobs work in a big established venue.
The two officers in charge, Charlie Adams, commander in charge of the Violent Crimes Division (VCID), and Lt. John Delmonico, night watch commander at the Fourth Precinct on the North Side, are in charge of overseeing the operation. Adams manages Vikings games and Delmonico oversees concerts but both said they work all the events. They came to their positions through unofficial handoffs when predecessors retired.
Adams said he looks to hire up to 75 officers on game day. They work throughout the building and ring the field during the pregame warmup sessions. Officers earn $60 per hour for four to five hours on game day.
Despite working in a department with an authorized strength of 888 officers, it can be tough to find officers to work games, he said. “We’re not sitting there fighting over part-time work, not like back in the day,” Adams said.
When he started with the department in 1986, Adams said he was paid $17,000 a year. “I worked the welfare building. I worked Shorty and Wags. I worked Embers. I worked anything I could find,” he said.
Rookies with two-year degrees now start at $68,000, according to Delmonico. The younger generation of cops also seems to value their free time more, officials say, making them more reluctant to take second jobs.
An audit released earlier this year found the department had no formal way of tracking how many officers were working off-duty on any given day.
The audit said that under a revamped system, cops who went over the allowed hours would be automatically flagged, with chronic offenders potentially facing discipline.
The department should also discourage cash payments for officers working secondary jobs, which creates the perception that fraud is possible, the audit said — though some changes may have to be addressed in police labor negotiations, which are on hold.
In response, the city is also considering rewriting its licensing rules that require certain businesses and work sites to have an off-duty police presence.
The city’s audit showed variation in how similarly sized cities across the country manage off-duty work. Many of them run the operation through City Hall, including Rochester, Bloomington and Duluth.
St. Paul has begun shifting to venue work run by the city. Allianz Field, for example, hires officers through a city contract as does the Twin Cities Marathon now, Sgt. Mike Ernster said. Smaller spots, such as grocery stores, or the Palace and Fitzgerald theaters, still hire individual officers for off-duty work. Officers don’t work at bars in St. Paul, Ernster said.
Other large police departments have taken up the off-duty issue in recent years.
Last year, Dallas police imposed a 40-hour weekly limit on officers moonlighting as security guards, after a report found that the city’s police officers worked too many off-duty jobs for far too many hours. The policy change, which had the support of the police union, limited officers to working 16 hours a day, on- or off-duty.
It’s unclear whether Minneapolis will follow suit. Adams and Delmonico said off-duty arrangements would be too unwieldy for the city to run.
Delmonico conceded the city could do a better job tracking the off-duty hours worked, but as a supervisor, he said he already can check on the hours because they get logged in the city’s system. But he noted that many officers already work long hours at their day jobs — especially homicide investigators who can be on duty for 24 hours straight or longer.
In his view, the next question becomes, “What is too much and if you believe somebody is working too much, what do you do about it?”