Until recently, the Minneapolis Police Department has lacked any formal system for tracking how many hours are worked by officers moonlighting as security guards at restaurants and nightclubs.
This was among the preliminary findings of a city audit released Wednesday of the department's off-duty employment guidelines. The audit noted "a number of opportunities for strengthening controls around police off-duty work processes to better inform officer health and wellness programs and public safety risk, improve allocation of resources, and improve department data-informed decisionmaking."
The audit also recommended greater use of technology that tracks officers' workloads, suggesting unique call signs for each off-duty work site that officers would reference to check in with dispatchers. It also called for better and more accurate data on off-duty police employment, which could be used to help strengthen oversight, Ginger Bigbie, the city's internal audit director, said in presenting the 25-page study to the Minneapolis City Council's Audit Committee.
The department said it was planning to roll out a new scheduling system next year that should solve some of those problems, officials said.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told the committee that he agreed with the report's recommendations, some of which have already been adopted.
"It's important for me to ensure that the off-duty culture is one that is in line with our MPD core values," said Arradondo, who has made officer wellness one of the cornerstones of his administration.
The committee's chair, Linea Palmisano, said in an interview that over the study period off-duty officers worked the equivalent of 63 10-hour shifts, putting more strain on policing resources.
"That's 63 full-time positions being shouldered across officers who already have full-time jobs," said Palmisano, one of several council members publicly pushing for more officers. "So to me that's a staffing issue."
The figures cited in the report are probably an underestimate, she said.
"This is just off-duty work. This is not including overtime, buyback or any other city department needs, including staffing at any park," she said.
It's a common practice for businesses to hire officers to deal with unruly patrons at bar-close or to direct rush-hour traffic. Work guidelines, which haven't changed in years, 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. Officers, who work in uniform and are allowed to use police squad vehicles when available — some precincts asking officers to sign out on a clipboard — are still bound by department regulations while working their second jobs, including being required to wear their body cameras.
Council Member Jeremy Schroeder of the 11th Ward said he was troubled by the fact that off-duty officers weren't previously required to log in to their in-squad computers, which activates the vehicles' GPS system.
"You're not able to say with certainty where every squad car is," he said.
The number of hours that officers can work, both on- and off-duty, is capped at 64 a week. But, as the audit found, officers regularly exceeded that total, raising concerns about fatigue.
Officials point to studies showing that long hours and little sleep tend to reinforce existing biases among officers. Overworked officers, research suggests, are more injury-prone, take more sick time and are more likely to be the subject of civilian complaints.
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.
An unofficial count made earlier this year tallied 76 officers on average working as security guards at banks, sports arenas, nightclubs and other establishments across the city, which officials admitted was probably a conservative estimate. While off-duty hours haven't been formally tracked, the audit's authors relied on data from the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and the police scheduling system to create a rough picture of how many hours officers are working.
Officials say they've noticed a generational divide in who works secondary jobs: Younger officers value leisure time more than their older colleagues, who see it as a way to supplement family incomes on jobs that tend to be less stressful than regular patrol work.
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.
But the Minneapolis Police Federation sued, arguing that any changes to off-duty work rules must be negotiated as part of the union's contract, and obtained a court injunction.
St. Paul, meanwhile, has long restricted off-duty police work to 24 hours per week, with no immediate plans to change the policy.
Palmisano, the Audit Committee chair, said she would establish a working group to explore possible next steps, including potentially changing licensing regulations that require a police presence at certain locations and events.
"If we as a city are concerned about community police relations, then we'd better get serious about the wellness of our officers," she said.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 • @StribJany