Burgess signs executive order on oversight of off-duty police work

Just over one week into Mayor Tim Burgess’ term, he has signed his first executive order: creating an internal, civilian-run office to oversee secondary employment of off-duty police officers.

It’s been known for quite some time that off-duty police work has grown beyond the control of SPD. Burgess noted today that over 100 Seattle organizations employ off-duty police officers. Those officers still wear their uniforms, carry their service weapons, and maintain all the powers of an on-duty officer when at their secondary employment.  That raises several concerns:

  • are SPD officers working so many off-duty hours that they are affected by fatigue when on-duty?
  • Who is coordinating those off-duty jobs, essentially running a private police department?

Officers are required to get a permit to work secondary jobs and SPD places limits on the number of off-duty hours they may work, but those rules are nearly impossible to enforce.

In 2016, the City Auditor issued a report, requested by the SPD Chief, that pointed out concerns with secondary jobs and recommended increased oversight.  And last week, it was announced that the Chief of Police had been made aware of allegations that two outside companies brokering off-duty work were engaging in unsavory practices; she referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.

Earlier this year, the City Council passed police accountability legislation that requires SPD to set up “an internal office, directed and staffed by civilians, to manage the secondary employment of its employees.” Burgess’ executive order today takes the next step toward making that happen. It directs SPD to establish that office, working with a long list of other city departments to make it “neutral cost” to the city. In other words, they will charge in some way (either permits, or a percentage of the income from officers) to cover their costs.

The executive order also establishes an inter-departmental taskforce to implement city management of all secondary employment. The taskforce has representatives from SPD, Human Resources, the IT Department, the City Budget Office, the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, and Finance and Administrative Services. It will need to consult with many other organizations:

  • the City Attorney;
  • the City Auditor;
  • the Community Police Commission;
  • Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the Council committee charged with SPD oversight;
  • the two unions representing SPD officers and supervisors;
  • former OPA Auditor Judge Anne Levinson;
  • the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

Burgess has directed the taskforce to report back to him with recommendations by November 14 — two weeks before the end of his term as Mayor — so that he can take action on their recommendations before he leaves office.

Today’s executive order doesn’t immediately change any practices; the companies coordinating off-duty work for officers (include the one officially endorsed by SPD) will continue to do so until the internal office is up and running. At that point, Burgess or his successor can issue a further executive order requiring all off-duty work to be coordinated internally. But as a spokesperson for the city told me today, that might not shut down the third-party coordinators either; it may simply require them to get a permit from the city and submit to close oversight.

It’s also important to point out, as Mayor Burgess did this afternoon, that off-duty work by police officers will continue on, albeit with more oversight and tighter regulations.

Burgess said this afternoon that the crackdown on off-duty police secondary employment should have happened long ago; he admitted that perhaps he even should have done something about it when he was a City Council member. “I wasn’t Mayor then,” he added, “but I am now.” Burgess said that he had discussed the issue several times with Chief O’Toole over the past week (O’Toole issued her own brief statement this afternoon).

Burgess believes that parts of the executive order may be subject to collective bargaining with the two unions representing SPD officers and supervisors. He said that he had spoken with union leadership this morning, though he declined to give any details of those conversations; nor did he specify which provisions might be subject to collective bargaining. Earlier this year when former Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order unilaterally ordering deployment of body-worn cameras on all SPD officers, the unions filed a complaint with the state labor commission; that suggests they will take the same approach to Burgess’ executive order today. In fact, SPOG posted a message to its members on its Facebook page taking issue with the executive order and stating that it will take legal action.

We will know more on November 14th when the task force delivers its recommendations.