UNION COUNTY — Police department corruption involving off-duty pay jobs is not unique. Across the country other cities have struggled with many of the same issues that have occurred in the Elizabeth Police Department.
How these particular municipalities tackled the widespread problem of corruption seeping into off-duty pay jobs, though, depended on many factors.
One critical component that showed up consistently, though, was whether the mayor and police chief were committed to changing the status quo.
In 2012, police in Phoenix, Ariz. realized they too were facing problems similar to Elizabeth after The Arizona Republic, a state-wide daily newspaper, launched an investigation into 18 of the state’s largest police agencies.
The investigation, which delved deep into the policies and employment records, revealed that 12 of the 18 police agencies could not account in detail where their police officers were working off-duty pay jobs or how many hours they actually worked.
There also was a wide discrepancy in pay-job work policies among these 18 agencies. Steven Mitchell, a program manager overseeing Arizona law enforcement for the National Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement pointed out that it was crucial for police departments to monitor off-duty pay jobs because off-duty work “lends itself to the potential for some sort of corruption.”
Pay jobs in Arizona totaled more than 200,000 hours and netted police officers $4 million in extra income in just one year. However, officials said an actual tally was unable to be calculated because of police department “poor tracking records.”
The Phoenix Police Department was forced to scrutinize administration of their off-duty pay job program only after several of their officers were indicted in an off-duty work scam and the attorney general became involved.
“The attorney general’s investigation was the catalyst,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman, explaining in a 2012 article in The Republic that “the department lacked sufficient internal controls over the off-duty pay job program to administer the program effectively.”
He explained, in the newspaper, that it was hard to do an audit when they did not have any data substantiating the hours or pay for officers taking on these off-duty pay jobs.
Three Phoenix police officers eventually were indicted for pocketing thousands of dollars for off-duty pay job security work they never showed up for at a city housing complex.
After this occurred, the police department hierarchy began developing new off-duty pay job polices, including the requirement that quarterly reports and regular inspections by supervisors be conducted involving all pay jobs.
The association that managed the housing complex found that pay job police officers were not providing shift security but merely checking in briefly while still on duty for the police department. As a result, the police department tightened controls in order to keep tabs on requested pay jobs and the officers who signed up for them.
Now police officers must log in with dispatchers when they report for off-duty pay jobs. An off-duty pay job database was also installed to ensure dispatchers enter information regarding pay jobs and the police officers who take them on, which are reviewed by supervisors. But this was not across the board by any means.
One county sheriff’s office in the Phoenix area produced more than 6,000 off-duty pay job work permits filed by police officers over the last five years but they either were not filled out at all or filled out incorrectly.
Another problem that came up was that police officers were violating policy by working too many off-duty pay job hours. One police officer, for instance, worked a 40-hour security job, in addition to his shift as a police officer. This violated the agency’s policy of only working a maximum of 24 hours a week at pay jobs each week.
Because no one was minding the store, and there was no database outlining schedules or keeping track of who was working pay jobs, supervisors had no clue police officers were working more hours at pay jobs than their regular shift for the city.
Similar issues surfaced in San Jose, Calif. in 2012 after an audit of the police department off-duty pay jobs showed discrepancies.
According to a report titled “Police Secondary Employment and Audit Report” the San Jose Police Department found there was a lack of control over pay jobs and the number of hours police officers were working.
Specifically, supervisors were lax, or failed to account at all, for the impact on police officers working pay jobs. More specifically, there were questions surrounding the actual hours police officers worked and the pay they received.
Efforts to track pay jobs by an outside service was explored and a computer program installed to monitor the hours and pay police officers received. More stringent guidelines and rules were also put into effect to ensure the person overseeing the pay job program was an outside civilian and not a member of the police force.
Investigations found that leaving this job to a member of the police force was an open door to questionable activity.
In New Orleans, La., efforts to reform the city’s controversial pay job system caused a shutdown of the program until things could be revamped. In 2011, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice released an investigative report on the New Orleans Police Department, alleging many problems with how pay jobs were being handled internally.
Pointing out “there are few aspects of the NOPD more broadly troubling than its paid detail system,” or off-duty pay job program. After allegations that police officers were abusing the system and not showing up for pay jobs but still receiving checks, the mayor immediately directed the police superintendent to revamp the entire system involving off-duty pay jobs.
Other issues that came to light involving the pay job program were allegations of favoritism on the part of cops who coordinated details for these off-duty jobs. The fact many police officers seemed more dedicated to their off-duty jobs than their actual paid police duties was also of serious concern.
This police department is still working to correct off-duty pay job issues that have plagued this department for years but lawsuits have surfaced as a result. Politics has figured significantly in resolving the problem but has stalled efforts to keep pay jobs above board and without claims of fraud.
In 2009, the Raleigh, N.C. police department changed the way their police officers were paid for off-duty pay jobs after a police lieutenant and retired police sergeant were charged with larceny.
According to The News and Observer, a daily newspaper in North Carolina, the charges stemmed from an internal police probe that began after a routine audit discovered irregularities in off-duty pay jobs. The department learned that six police officers had been working a pay job security detail when they were supposed to be on the clock in their paid police roles for the city.
The audit showed that over a five-year period 104 police officers compiled 150 violations, almost half involving working more than 14 hours a day on their regular shift and then taking on pay jobs. Out of the same 104 police officers, 19 were found to be double-dipping by working an off-duty security pay job even though they were on the clock for city patrol duty.
Closer to home, in 2011 Jersey City discovered they had issues about the way cops earned money from off-duty jobs. Under the changes proposed at the time, Mayor Steve Fulop began an all out effort to organize and monitor off-duty pay jobs, bringing about changes that not only saved local businesses money but put eight additional officers back on the beat.
According to The Jersey Journal, the changes involved appointing two civilians to arrange for off-duty pay jobs. Previously two police officers in each of the city’s four districts handled this task and had little oversight by supervisors. This also took some authority away from the police chief when it came to staffing off-duty police officers, which had posed problems in the past.
Police officers were making $35 to $65 per hour for off-duty pay jobs, but the system, the mayor said, inherently was riddled with problems. In 2010, The Jersey Journal noted, cops made $9.6 million from private off-duty pay jobs, including construction sites and private parties. The city pocketed $5 per hour for administrative fees but they were looking to increase that to $15 per hour.
Pay jobs were a very lucrative venture for some police officers in Jersey City. One in particular made $107,824 in just a year from pay jobs he took on, in addition to his $109,097 annual salary as a city police officer. The Jersey Journal reported 36 other police officers made more than $50,000 each from off-duty work in 2012.
So how do you solve the problem of corruption seeping into off-duty pay jobs? In California, the San Jose governing body tackled this issue by ordering that a comprehensive report be done on the off-duty pay job system in their city. In the end, this report pinpointed problems police departments in general have with off-duty pay jobs. They found, in general, pay jobs lack oversight and this must be brought under control in order to reduce the risk of fraud, conflicts of interest and inequity.
A recurring theme in police department fraud schemes is reliance of perpetrators on the inattentiveness of others, the report noted. When some police officers see an opportunity to make a little extra money without getting caught, an employee is more likely to attempt a fraud scheme. The fact that a supervisor is known to ‘rubber stamp’ timecards or even ignore them can be a factor in an employee’s decision to begin stealing from a pay job employer.
The report suggested that if it is discovered that police officers committed pay job fraud, steps should taken immediately to implement a written procedure for periodic review of who is signing up for pay jobs.
A system, they said, for ensuring police officers are showing up for the entire amount of hours they are being paid is also critical.
Without safeguard measures in place, the report noted, the door is open for some police officers to take advantage of those who need off-duty pay job protection.
There is no word from the Elizabeth Police Department on whether or not steps will be taken to ensure the kind of rampant abuse that has taken place in the past does not continue.