Task force to look at Minneapolis cops’ off-duty work

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaks at a press conference.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announces a new task force to examine off-duty police work alongside department leaders on Wednesday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Concerned that police overwork may be causing fatigue that affects performance, Minneapolis city leaders are taking a closer look at how to regulate officers’ off-duty employment.

Many officers earn extra money with side jobs providing security at nightclubs, sporting events and stores. The demand for off-duty officers reportedly exceeds the supply of cops who are available and willing to take the work.

“Officers working off-duty wear the Minneapolis Police Department uniform,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at a news conference. “They often have MPD squad cars when they’re off duty. They are expected to respond to calls for help when they’re off duty. And the city is liable for our off-duty officers.”

The issue of off-duty work — and the fatigue it can cause — came up last year at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.

Prosecutors noted that Noor had just finished a seven-hour side gig providing security at a bank when he punched in for his regular job on July 15, 2017. That night, he fatally shot 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk — who approached his squad car after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault. Noor is serving a 12-and-a-half-year sentence for manslaughter and third-degree murder.

Though he didn’t mention that incident, Mayor Frey said at a news conference Wednesday that a new task force will figure out new policies for off-duty work.

An audit last fall found that the department has no reliable way to track off-duty hours, and there’s not a strong policy that governs side jobs. However, the review did note the upside of side work; it puts more uniformed officers in the community and deters crime.

The rules require only that a supervisor be notified verbally when an officer exceeds the weekly limit of 64 hours of combined on- and off-duty work. There’s no daily limit and no rest requirement before starting a regular shift.

The St. Paul Police Department limits off-duty work to 24 hours a week.

Minneapolis council member Linea Palmisano
Minneapolis council member Linea Palmisano.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Council member Linea Palmisano represents the southwest Minneapolis ward where Ruszczyk was killed.

Palmisano noted that city officials made at least two attempts decades ago to manage police side jobs.

“Because it was done in the ’90s, it was an effort for a three-month period where officers would fill out cards,” she said. “My sense from reading through it was index cards, to try to get an accurate accounting for the kinds of hours that were being worked. That’s kind of as far as it got.”

In 1994, then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton tried limiting off-duty work to 24 hours per week and restricting it in bars. But that directive fizzled when the police union sued.

At Frey’s news conference, Minneapolis Police Federation Vice President Sherral Schmidt said the union is committed to finding a solution that works for both officers and the city. Schmidt said there’s a concern among the rank and file that restrictions could reduce their income.

Minneapolis Police Federation Vice President Sherral Schmidt
Minneapolis Police Federation Vice President Sherral Schmidt.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

“We’ve always had the ability to work off-duty in the city, so for sure that’s an issue with some of our members thinking they’re going to lose income,” Schmidt said.

“We hope that we can through this process negotiate something that works for our members.”

Any limits city leaders place on off-duty work would have to be squared with the city’s own ordinances, which require that organizers of large public events hire police.

While the data on side jobs are incomplete, the audit estimates that 71 percent of officers worked at least one outside shift last year. And Frey noted that the demand for off-duty cops exceeds the supply of officers willing and able to cover the jobs.

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