The Dallas Police Association noted that long hours and being overworked are likely factors in a fatal shooting by off-duty officer Amber Guyger. Guyger, confused and fatigued, entered the wrong apartment after a 15-hour shift and shot the unarmed resident after mistaking him for an intruder in her apartment.
A recently released audit showed that some Dallas police officers are working more hours off duty than they do on-duty. (Read the PoliceOne news story and full report). The report cites research on fatigue and performance as part of the issues of concern for the department.
The pros and cons of off-duty work
There is a lot to be said for allowing police officers to work off-duty jobs. Citizens get extra police presence at no taxpayer cost for salaries. Businesses are protected without generating calls for service to on-duty staff. Cops get extra cash.
On the downside, besides the potential for fatigue-related performance failure, the potential for off-duty injury and other increased sick leave use can reduce a department’s roll call strength. Liability to the department can arise from off-duty conduct depending on a variety of factors.
There are situations where the off-duty employer’s demands and expectations are not consistent with the ethics and standards of the officer’s agency. The temptation to use government information infrastructure – like running plates or searching criminal history – for private purposes is ever present. These, and other challenges, are strong incentives for police leaders to have strong policies on off-duty employment and careful monitoring.
As part of a department’s holistic wellness approach, providing officers with guidance about the potentially negative consequences of excessive off-duty employment can help officers make wiser decisions. A loss of family time can ultimately cost more, in dollars as well as relationships, than the value of the second, third and fourth paycheck. Providing officers with family support and sound financial management information might reduce the perceived need for additional income.
Accustomed to risk-taking, officers working off-duty may not fully appreciate the risk to their regular full-time employment. If their performance suffers, they may lose promotion and assignment opportunities in the department. Injury and sickness, or lawsuits and department discipline for off-duty conduct, can strain careers. For officers who become dependent on off-duty income, a layoff, suspension, or disability at work often means the loss of their off-duty work that is based on their status as a police officer, creating a personal financial disaster.
Agencies have broad latitude in controlling off-duty employment, but making drastic changes that restrict officers’ opportunities for extra income will be actively resisted and resented.
In determining if off-duty policies need to be changed, leaders should ask the following questions:
- Are local policies consistent with the practices of other similar, neighboring agencies?
- Have policy considerations been fully vetted from a risk management perspective, especially as it relates to the use of department equipment for outside employment?
- Are officers surveyed to provide leaders with information on how many hours they may be working off-duty including employment that is not police related?
- Are officers working off-duty generating more personnel issues than other officers? What are their absence rates, complaints, accidents and injuries, and other measures of productivity compared to officers with no or fewer off-duty work hours?
For most agencies, off-duty opportunities are here to stay, but the dash for cash must be optimized to meet the mission of the department first.
How police leaders can support holistic wellness for officers: