Changing the moonlighting bulb

Maybe I’m out of touch with modern law enforcement, but back in my day, most cops I knew worked extra jobs to make ends meet. In fact, I don’t think I knew a cop other than the top brass who didn’t moonlight.

Many of the officers with whom I served actually had businesses they ran when they were off-duty. They painted houses, laid tile floors, installed carpet, detailed cars – most were supplementing the pretty lousy pay we received. And with health insurance premiums for a family so high even back then that it often took a third of an officer’s take-home, we needed every penny we could earn.

We also took a lot of security jobs. Some of us had regular security work – I supplemented mall security on the weekends, getting a grand total of about $7 an hour for my efforts – and we all grabbed those extra opportunities that came along. I can remember once as a detective being hired to babysit a house full of expensive wedding gifts during a big, fancy wedding. They wanted to make sure no one broke in and stole all of their china and silver while they walked the aisle.

We were grateful the city let us work those jobs. Quite frankly, without them, many of us couldn’t have afforded to stay on the force. As much as I hated it, that mall job gave me enough extra cash to pay for my childcare expenses, and the occasional security gig helped out with all of those unexpected things that come up – like medical bills and car repairs.

I knew a few officers who made pretty good money moonlighting. My husband taught classes at the local community college to help keep us solvent and that cash helped fix up the old house we bought.

The city didn’t really interfere with our moonlighting or put any unreasonable demands on us. We knew there some jobs you just didn’t take – the chief wouldn’t have allowed us to work at a strip club or for anyone with a questionable reputation. But generally they let us work whatever we could to bridge the financial gap.

They changed that at some point and came out with a set of regulations for working extra jobs. I think mostly it was to ensure that officers didn’t work so many hours they were burned out by the time they hit the streets. And they set up an approval process for moonlighting gigs.

Both ideas are sound. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want some guy who’d been working so many hours he was punch-drunk standing behind me with a loaded gun while we were searching a dark building. And the approval process kept officers from making errors of judgment that could come back to haunt them. Since we were allowed to use our badges, weapons and uniforms when appropriate while working these extra jobs, the city had the right to dictate the terms of our use. I never heard anyone complain about it.

Recently, the Miami-Dade Police Department conducted an audit into side jobs held by some of the department’s staff. All I can say is that things have changed one heck of a lot since I earned $7 walking through a crowd of shoppers milling around Sears on the weekend. The officers, along with a former mayoral chief of staff, are accused of ignoring rules established to regulate moonlighting jobs – to the tune of $400,000.

Granted, these positions had nothing to nabbing shoplifters while off-duty or picking up a paintbrush; these were high-dollar consulting jobs with the Panamanian National Police, but reading reports generated from the audit makes me realize not only that things have changed since I moonlighted, but also that departments have a moral duty to set limits and controls on off-duty employment.