News 3 Special Report: Cops and Security - WVTM-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Birmingham, AL

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News 3 Special Report: Cops and Security

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COLUMBUS, Ga. - Last August we brought you the story of some troubled residents at Eagles Trace apartments. Chief among their concerns was one police officer who they say harasses them constantly. An investigation revealed that he was working off the clock as private security for the apartments.

Open records requests reveal that more than 80% of Columbus’ officers have these types of jobs.

382 out of 455 officers in the Columbus Police Department worked at least one part-time job last year. They use uniforms, guns and badges to perform these jobs, and many utilize their patrol cars. When they do, they don’t have to reimburse the city for the gasoline they burn.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson supports this policy, claiming it actually saves the city money to let them take patrol cars home.

“If we didn’t have off-duty officers out there supplementing the force through private contract work," she says, "then we would have to hire some number of additional officers to cover that shift, and so in a way, we have those businesses most at risk assessing the fact that they’re most at risk and paying for what would be additional public deployment."

And so, she claims, those officers need their own cars. Mayor Tomlinson references a cost-assessment study that found it costs about the same to the city to have more cars for individual use than to have a pool of cars for constant use,  but the city doesn’t track how much gas the officers use for private work. The mayor repeated in our interview several times that she believes the city benefits. A view echoed by Police Captain Gordon Griswould.

“It provides police protection out there when the normal officers are not available to respond with the volume of calls that are received sometimes,” he says.

But when do the part-time jobs become too much?

“Several of them i know have authorization forms completed for about five or six jobs,” says Griswould. “Some would work 20-30 hours a week, probably, in addition to those 40 hours.”

Dr. Greg Weaver is an Auburn University professor who specializes in Criminology and Sociology. He says part-time security work is common for officers around the country, but the job can become overwhelming.

“The stress can have an effect on an officer,” says Dr. Weaver. "If they have outside employment because of economic necessity, there's the stress associated with economic issues. At the same time, if a person is working extra hours at a part-time job, they may feel guilty that they're spending extra time away from their family."

Griswould claims the city will take action if the private security work becomes a problem. “There are some red flags that will go off if that let you know that this officer is having some problems that would cause us to terminate them from working that part-time employment at the time,” he says.

But what’s not clear is how the city can determine how effective an officer who’s putting in so many extra hours can be.

A simple Google search for “studies of police and extra work hours” returns dozens of articles, most of them dealing with stress and its implications. One study published by the National Center for Criminal Justice had this telling phrase in its executive summary: 
“Fatigued or tired police officers are a danger to themselves as well as the public they serve. Little is known of the long term health impact of shift work and extended work hours on police officers, and no direct detailed exposure assessment of work/shift hours has yet been done."

Dr. Weaver adds, "They realize they're in a potentially, and in many cases, dangerous situations, and typically it's viewed as just part of the job. It's something that, when you get into that field, you know it's something that you're going to encounter."

But for the officers, both Griswould and the mayor admit its about making money.

“They want to work these part-time jobs in order to make more money," says Griswould, "in order to provide for themselves and their families, and to make their life a little bit more comfortable than what it would be based on their normal salary.”

Mayor Tomlinson says, "As long as that's something that's comfortably done, given the nature of the work, and the supervisors feel it's appropriate, then that would be within our standards."

Capt. Griswould says before an officer can be approved for part time work the city reviews performance evaluations, work attendance and officer fitness. Given that roughly 80% of the officers have these jobs, few who apply are rejected.

The mayor says while working off-duty, police officers are only supposed to enforce the law, not the individual rules and regulations of their part-time employer.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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