Task force to study Minneapolis off-duty police work

The task force will develop and recommend new off-duty work policies for city police officers

Libor Jany
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Concerned about police officer exhaustion and burnout, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other leaders have formed a task force charged with overhauling the department's off-duty employment program.

The 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. No deadline was given by which the task force would report its findings.

"The task force will focus on developing off-duty work policies that support officer wellness while improving accountability and public safety," city officials said in a news release. "Taskforce recommendations will also help inform Frey's funding considerations for the city's 2021 budget proposal."

It's unclear whether barring or restricting the practice is legal or would be allowed under the current police union contract, which is being renegotiated.

The idea of rewriting the rules governing off-duty employment by city officers was first raised last fall, when an internal audit criticized the department for lax oversight of off-duty work.

The audit found "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."

Among its key recommendations: greater use of technology to track officers' workloads, both on- and off-duty; using unique call signs for each off-duty work site that officers would reference to check in with dispatchers; and collecting better and more accurate data on off-duty police employment, which could be used to help strengthen oversight.

At the time, department officials promised to develop a new scheduling system in 2020 that would address some of those problems.

It's a common practice for businesses to hire officers to deal with unruly patrons at bar-close or to direct rush-hour traffic. But, unlike other large departments across the country, Minneapolis lacked any formal system for tracking how many hours off-duty officers were working while moonlighting as security guards at restaurants and nightclubs. 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.

The issue also arose during the widely-watched murder trial of ex-Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor, where prosecutors pointed out that he had gone straight from working seven hours at his off-duty bank security job to his shift, which ended when he shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

Officers, who work in uniform and are allowed to use police squad vehicles when available, are still bound by department regulations while working their second jobs, including being required to wear their body cameras.

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.

Experts say studies show 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.

One 2018 study published in the scientific journal Sleep, concluded that "on-duty fatigue and sleepiness, sleep obtained before a shift, and working night shifts were strongly associated with public complaints." Another recent report found that officers, after nights when they got less sleep, were more likely to reinforce unconscious racial biases.

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.

Officials have weighed changing licensing regulations that require a police presence at certain locations and events.

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.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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