Police Organization Weighs Lawsuit After Rate Hikes For Off-Duty Officer Jobs

Apr 5, 2021, 10:50 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — The Fraternal Order of Police – Utah’s largest organization of officers – is not happy about a recent change in how West Valley City Police Department manages off-duty security jobs.

Neither are multiple businesses, which the KSL Investigators learned are, in some cases, paying twice as much for those services.

In a letter, obtained exclusively by KSL, the FOP said it is prepared to file a lawsuit against West Valley City Police, because the change “marks a disturbing, and possibly illegal trend in the way in which law enforcement officers interface with local businesses for secondary employment.”

Higher Rates Unaffordable for Many Businesses

“It’s just a really bad outcome for officers and local businesses,” said Ian Adams, Executive Director of Utah Fraternal Order of Police. He says recent changes to off-duty employment rates priced many businesses out of hired protections they’ve enjoyed for years.

In January 2021, West Valley Police finalized a contract with Texas-based Off Duty Management (ODM.) The department told KSL the move helped them better manage these side jobs, ensuring even distribution of the work and better protecting the officers from risk.

Off Duty Management’s website advertises insurance, Workers’ Compensation coverage, and other perks for police departments “at no cost to the agency.” KSL Investigators found at least 23 police agencies nationwide who have contracted with the company, including Tooele City Police, Tooele County Sheriff, and Grantsville Police locally.

Adams said costs for ODM’s services landed elsewhere. “Unfortunately, prices for these local businesses went through the roof,” he explained.

Three years ago, West Valley officers negotiated their own off-duty rates directly with businesses. Under ODM, the price went to a flat rate: $50 an hour plus a $7 administration fee, with a two-hour minimum. It costs extra for holidays, supervisors, and police vehicles.

Comparatively, Salt Lake City Police told us they charge $45 per hour for off-duty officers. Unified Police do not have a flat rate, opting instead to negotiate the rate with what the job entails. Their spokesperson told us rates average $38 per hour. The three Tooele Valley law enforcement agencies contracted with ODM charge $60 per hour.

Adams said by their count, 11 of 15 West Valley businesses that regularly hired off-duty officers cut ties with the city. FOP estimated what it would have cost some of these businesses annually, had they continued employing West Valley officers with ODM’s wages and fees. For some, it meant increases of more than $100,000 a year.

“There’s no reason to cost these local businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars more,” Adams exclaimed.

Emails to West Valley Police the KSL Investigators obtained through a public records request show Walmart, once paying $560,000 per year in off-duty officer costs, would now pay close to $1 million. St. Mark’s Hospital suggested the rate increase would mean cutting “24 officers” they employed from West Valley Police for security.

Granite School District Communications Director Ben Horsley said they used to hire West Valley off-duty officers for special events, like football games. The night school at Hunter High employed an officer regularly.

“We’re always going to try to look for the cheapest alternative,” said Horsley, who explained that though they have a good relationship with West Valley Police, the district ultimately decided not to continue off-duty employment due to the higher costs.

“We just try to get the best deal for taxpayers that we can,” Horsley said.

Claims of Fewer Jobs Available for Officers

Adams told KSL a result of businesses unable to afford West Valley Police officers means there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

The arrival of ODM meant jobs are now evenly distributed across the whole department, so officers who had long worked the same business on a regular schedule saw a cut in those hours. Adams claimed this hit morale in the department and said, “we’ve already begun to see officers leaving the department, at a time when it’s already difficult to recruit and retain qualified officers.”

Melody Cutler with Unified Police said their department already had a tough time fulfilling all off-duty employment requests. Since West Valley signed on with ODM, she said “we have had requests from some West Valley businesses to hire our officers for their secondary employment. There’s definitely an increased demand.”

Cutler said they’ve also heard from West Valley officers hoping to fulfill those additional jobs.

“Unfortunately, we can’t do that,” said Cutler. “Because those contracts are with Unified Police, [we] have our own set of policies, we can’t have officers from other departments. It just doesn’t work that way.”

West Valley City Police Say Change is ‘Best Practice’

West Valley Deputy Chief Scott Buchanan said the decision to “revamp” their off-duty employment program came about three years ago. Until that time, he said officers negotiated jobs directly with businesses. The department decided to dedicate one lieutenant to oversee secondary employment.

Buchanan told us this person’s job was to make sure “these requests that we were receiving were handed out to our employees fairly and equitably,” and “everybody within our community—our businesses—was all being treated equally.”

He explained that at that point, they did not address the legacy jobs which had been contracted over the previous 27 years. “As we reflected on our practices,” Buchanan said, “we came across Off Duty Management.”

Buchanan told KSL hiring ODM was largely about eliminating risk. He pointed to many lawsuits and adverse situations across the country where off-duty officers have behaved badly, hurt people, or gotten hurt themselves on secondary jobs.

“The consequences there could be severe in terms of cost to you, things not necessarily being covered by Workers’ Compensation insurance, and of course, even risk-related issues like lawsuits,” he said.

Buchanan said multiple departments nationwide vary in insurance coverage of their off-duty officers.

“Although they are wearing the police department’s uniform, the question becomes whether or not they’re engaging in police activity,” he said. “Our officers in particular are better covered than most… but when it comes to just walking around somebody’s parking lot, the fact they’re wearing our uniform does not mean they would necessarily be covered for a simple injury.”

Risk management became an issue for Salt Lake City Police in 2014, when a journalist sued the department and its off-duty officer guarding the Chevron refinery for allegedly violating his first amendment rights.

PDF: Fruhwirth V Zayas lawsuit complaint

Buchanan also pointed to two state audits performed in 2018 with Salt Lake City Police and Unified Police respectively, which examined secondary employment practices. The audits found the departments needed to come up with better ways of managing those risk factors, and “unify police secondary employment policies” was a suggestion.

Making an even playing field for officers signing up for these secondary jobs was also a priority for Buchanan.

“Anytime that you’re losing income I’m sure is a stressful situation for anybody,” he said. “In the end, we believe that this situation is the best balancing of all interests involved to make sure that the police department is following best practices: that we’re being transparent, accountable across the board, that nobody is being treated any differently in our city.”

Buchanan explained favoritism in how off-duty positions are handed out was also a big risk-related area “when law enforcement agencies manage these types of programs themselves.”

Buchanan said while they did not consult businesses in this change, they did hold a town hall meeting in November to address questions and concerns. He said businesses that are no longer able to afford to hire West Valley officers might look to other private security firms or other police agencies for those jobs. For now, the changes stay. “We believe that this is the best practice possible for secondary employment for police officers.”

Adams told us FOP has continued to attempt conversations with West Valley Police on these new policies but is prepared to go forward with a lawsuit if unsuccessful. “We really need to get West Valley to sit down and take these businesses seriously.”

KSL Investigators reached out to Off Duty Management for more information, but our phone calls and emails were not returned.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Police Organization Weighs Lawsuit After Rate Hikes For Off-Duty Officer Jobs