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Off-Duty Jobs Prove Lucrative For Hollywood Police Officers

The Miami Herald

December 27, 1998

 

By Corey Dade and Neil Reisner

  Three of every four Hollywood police officers earn extra money working off-duty security jobs in a $2 million-a-year enterprise that is virtually unregulated by the police department or the city.

  As many as 500 times in the past year, Hollywood police officers scheduled themselves to work two or more off-duty security jobs at the same time. In some cases, officers who were supposed to be on duty could also have been paid, in addition, for working off-duty, a three-month Herald investigation has found.

  The record-keeping is so poor, the department isn’t sure what happened. The city can’t account for the discrepancies.

  And in one case, an officer already is under criminal investigation for working an off-duty job while on the clock for the city.

  The Herald’s analysis of department records from October 1997 through September 1998 found:

  • The department has no oversight of off-duty pay — because businesses pay officers directly — so officials have no way to know who got paid for what shift.

  • Officers routinely fail to check in with dispatch while working details, a violation of policy and the department’s sole means of tracking off-duty officers who could be sent to emergencies.

  • Officers are often scheduled to work off duty more than the department limit of 25 hours a week, raising concerns of fatigue that can affect job performance.

  Hollywood’s system, dictated by city ordinance, is unique in allowing officers to control every aspect of the off-duty work, which can earn them as much as $26,000 a year. Most other departments nationwide exercise varied levels of control in assigning the jobs — from rotation lists to sign-up sheets — and most departments handle the money.

  In Hollywood, the jobs are assigned by detail coordinators, most of whom are active union members. Control over the income of the rank-and-file is pivotal to the union’s influence in the department — influence that bolstered the union’s successful campaign to oust Chief Rick Stone in October.

  “Effectively, they obviously control the purse strings of everybody in the department,” said City Manager Sam Finz. “Long before Sam Finz, there was an old joke that the guy who controls the paycheck runs the system. I thought that was me.”

  The city released the results of an Equal Employment Opportunity investigation Dec. 10 that found rampant cronyism and favoritism in the assignment of off-duty work, which added up to more than 108,000 hours last year at $20 an hour.

  After The Herald requested off-duty work records in October, the department launched a wide internal probe into possible abuses and started looking for ways to reform the system, which employs 72 percent of the force.

  “The media should not be pointing this out to us,” interim Police Chief Al Lamberti said. “There is no excuse for that.”

  The off-duty jobs are an important benefit to Hollywood police officers, whose regular salaries range from $33,722 for rookies to $60,610 for experienced sergeants. Officers at entry-level police pay earn more per hour working details than they earn on regular duty.

Departments throughout the country offer the service to businesses, and police say their presence enhances community-policing efforts.

  Lamberti said he does not suspect Hollywood officers of wrongdoing and that the problems are products of shoddy record-keeping, but he admitted officers do not appear beyond reproach.

 

Internal investigation

 

  The department’s investigation into Officer Bryan Roussell’s work schedule has been turned over to the Broward state attorney’s office.

Roussell was one of many officers paid by the Lakes of Emerald Hills subdivision to provide security during his time off, driving his police cruiser through the neighborhood, keeping watch over the homes tucked behind North Park Road.

  On June 20, dispatch records show, Roussell arrived at the Lakes at 4 p.m. and worked until midnight. Time sheets show he also began his on-duty patrol shift at 10 p.m. State attorneys are investigating whether he was paid twice for that two-hour overlap.

  Records show several other officers had similar scheduling conflicts.

For instance, Officer Kevin Companion was scheduled to work off-duty at multiple sites in a single day on as many as 111 dates. He was supposed to be in two or more places at once on as many as 87 occasions.

  On as many as 15 dates, Officer William Vrancik was scheduled to be in two places at once. On at least 12 dates, he was scheduled for overlapping off-duty jobs in Young Circle — at Walgreen’s and the Young Circle shopping center parking lot.

  Records show he checked in from “Young Circle” on four of those shifts, but didn’t indicate for which business. There was no indication that a substitute worked one of the jobs. Walgreen’s officials said they don’t share officers with other nearby businesses, such as the parking lot. Companion was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Vrancik would not comment on the overlaps.

 

Off-duty procedures

 

Department officials often cannot verify potential violations because detail records are incomplete and unreliable. The schedules for the various jobs rarely match the dispatch records, which are supposed to document who worked when.

  “We have lousy record-keeping. The system is flawed,” Lamberti said. “There should not be inferences of impropriety, and that is what we have now.”

  Off-duty assignments are handled by coordinators, designated officers who earn an extra $80 a week for scheduling police officers to handle the jobs.

  Businesses pay the detail coordinators, who dole the money out to officers, with no city oversight. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department has a similar setup.The 61 Hollywood coordinators, who each supervise one permanent detail, were scheduled to work four of every 10 hours of off-duty work.

  The lack of city control is rare, said Mort Feldman, executive vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington, D.C., which represents more than 11,000 chiefs, sheriffs and police commanders.

  “I have heard of situations where you have an entity that [hires] off-duty police officers, and they would ask the department if they could select one who would be responsible for scheduling, and that’s fine,” Feldman said. “The key is that all off-duty requests are posted or taken from a rotation. Once you cut that out, you are putting a lot of money and a lot of power into the hands of a few people who can corrupt other officers or be corrupted.”

  Finz said the potential for abuse creates a bad public perception of the department.

  “I think people are going to look at this and say, ‘Maybe there is a little greed and avarice there,’ ” he said.

 

Scheduling conflicts

 

  Poor record keeping and limited supervision prevent the department from knowing precisely how many off-duty hours officers work — and when and where they work.

  For instance, in the year The Herald studied, Companion was scheduled for as many as 1,897 hours — an average of 36 hours a week. No officer is supposed to work more than 25 a week. But the city does not know whether Companion actually worked all those hours — and violated city rules — because officers routinely arrange substitutes when they have schedule conflicts.

  “There is no way we can track that,” Deputy Chief Mike Ignasiak said.

  Department policy states that officers are responsible for finding substitutes for their detail shifts. Failure to do so — and not calling dispatch from the job — violates the policy.

  On as much as 76 percent of Companion’s scheduled shifts, the city has no dispatch record to show whether Companion or anyone else actually showed up for the detail.

  It raises questions the department can’t answer.

  “It would be suspicious to me if I’ve got a guy who is supposed to work a detail and has not called in on the radio,” Lamberti said.

  Many of Companion’s scheduling conflicts appear between midnight and 8 a.m., usually involving shifts at various combinations of Emerald Oaks, Four Corners, Toyota of Hollywood, Sheridan Plaza and Gemini nightclub. Employees at Four Corners said officers work there seven nights a week. Officials at Emerald Oaks could not be reached for comment. Toyota of Hollywood declined to comment.

  Although the department can’t prove who worked what shift, officials believe the businesses were provided the off-duty security they requested.

  Merchants “are paying $20 an hour,” said police legal adviser Joel Cantor. “If they are not getting their money’s worth, they will let you know.”

  Some of the records suggest officers were working off-duty at the same time they were scheduled to be on duty. Sometimes, the department allows officers to take compensatory time off to cover off-duty shifts. But records do not always note the accrued time.

  That makes it difficult for the department to determine where Sgt. Louis Granteed spent at least two days last summer. Time sheets confirm he worked his regular patrol shift from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. June 13. But dispatch records show he worked a detail until 2:26 a.m. — nearly 2-1/2 hours into his on-duty shift.

  On July 27, dispatch logs place him on an off-duty job at O’Malley’s Beach Bar on North Ocean Drive from 11:31 p.m. to 1:28 a.m., again overlapping with his patrol shift. Granteed, a 16-year police veteran, may have used comp time to work the off-duty hours, but there is no record that he did. Granteed declined to comment.

  Hollywood Sgt. Dick Brickman, Broward police union president, said it is common for officers to schedule themselves for more off-duty work than they can handle.

  “I’m sure what has happened is when [an officer] gets details, they take them. When the time comes close, they take one of the details and give the rest away,” Brickman said. “How can you work both details? You can’t. Is it wrong to sign up for two details? I don’t think so.”

  Some officers were scheduled to work as many as 36 off-duty hours in a week, raising the issue of fatigue, which Ignasiak said is a chief concern for the department’s top brass.

  “If he or she is working no more than 20 hours a week in addition to the full 40 hours per week that we schedule officers to work, we feel comfortable that you can do both of those without feeling fatigue,” Ignasiak said. “Once you go beyond that, then you are raising questions about whether an officer can perform.”

  Officers should not work more than 20 off-duty hours a week, said Feldman, a retired BSO lieutenant and former Dade County sheriff’s deputy during the 1960s.

  “The last thing we need is an officer who is tired, not alert. Or, on the other hand, irritable, angry, hostile or simply doesn’t want to be bothered,” he said.

 

Community policing

 

  When managed properly, details provide an important service, department officials said. They put more police officers in the community, and allow them to get to know merchants and residents.

  An off-duty officer standing guard outside a local shop or cruising through a neighborhood can deter crime and provides extra support, Ignasiak said.

  “This is $2 million worth of services the city doesn’t have to pay for,” Ignasiak said.

  “So that makes it a very valuable for the police department.”

  And officers sometimes leave their details to respond to police emergencies. In March 1997, after an employee at the Sears Portrait Studio in Sheridan Plaza was shot to death, police arrested the suspected killer in less than an hour. Officer Wilbur Fernander, working a detail at the shopping center’s Publix, was one of the first on the scene.

  Business owners say police are more effective than civilian security guards. The cost difference usually is minimal. Most security firms charge about $18 an hour.

  “They are trained professionals, know the boundaries of the law and can write police reports, unlike security guards,” said Allison Ward, spokeswoman for Dave & Buster’s, which employed 34 officers during the year at its Oakwood Plaza location. “Also, they can handle guests appropriately. They are better at crowd control and crisis management. There is a comfort level with off-duty police. In the businesses’ minds, they can help deter incidents before they get out of hand.”

  Taxpayers still absorb significant costs, especially for fuel and maintenance of patrol cars used off-duty.

  The city collects a $50 annual permit fee from each of the businesses that employ off-duty officers on a permanent basis. That raises $3,050 a year — not enough to cover the cost of operating one police car for a year.

  Most other police departments charge businesses an administrative fee for every hour worked to cover maintenance and other expenses.

  The Broward Sheriff’s Office, for instance, expects to collect more than $800,000 in revenue this year from the $3 an hour it takes from deputies’ off-duty wages, which more than covers vehicle maintenance and a full-time office to oversee the off-duty work.

  But other departments have problems, too, Brickman said, though he acknowledged Hollywood’s operation should be tightened. He has consistently said that any improvement of the current policy is a welcome alternative to abolishing it.

  ``If they try to come and take over our details, you will see more of a united front than there was against Stone,'' Brickman said, ``because now you are talking about our pocketbook.''

 

Herald staff writers Jackie Potts and Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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