The city’s governing body gave its precursory approval to an ordinance that seeks to double the administrative fee for off-duty police officers and add an additional vehicle cost.
City officials want to increase the current administrative fee of $5 per hour for off-duty officers to $10. Officials also want to charge $15 per hour for police vehicles.
“What we’re doing is we are changing the fee so that we can cover the maintenance, tires, batteries, oil, and gas,” said Jerry Speziale, police director, during a workshop discussion on December 2nd, 2014.
Speziale said the fees are paid by companies and organizations that require the services of off-duty police officers. He mentioned utility companies needing to hire off-duty officers to block off streets while doing pole or underground repair works.
Off-duty officers’ rate is approximately $75 per hour, said Nellie Pou, business administrator. She said the will come out of that rate.
“Why do we let off-duty police officers ride our cars?” asked Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman. Tavarez said there is immense liability for the city as an armed officer, equipped with a city vehicle, is employed by a private business.
“So we take on all this liability for $20 an hour?” remarked Tavarez. He asked whether the increased fee, $20 per hour, will cover the costs the city incurs in vehicle insurance, fuel, and other expenses associated with a police interceptor.
“If something happens, we’re liable for that person,” added Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. Mendez sought a report from Pou to figure out the actual cost the city incurs by allowing off-duty officers to utilize its vehicles.
Mendez wants the city to be reimbursed for its fuel costs.
The city would not want private security officers without uniforms guarding work sites, said Domenick Stampone, law director. He said the city benefits when police officers with marked vehicles are stationed in neighborhoods work sites by sheer visibility.
“I think the $5 fee was negligible from the beginning,” stated Willaim McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. He said the added fee of $10 or $15 is sensible.
McKoy also found fault at the way senior officers are assigned off-duty work while the lower rung of the department sees less of it.
McKoy wants rookie officers, who make less money than higher ranking officers, to see more off-duty work. It will increase their pay, keep them honest, and make them less disgruntled, said McKoy.
You don’t want the higher level officers hogging the off-duty, while you have disgruntled low-level officers, said McKoy. He also frowned upon the practice of placing police brasses on off-duty assignments.
“One time I saw a deputy chief doing off-duty work. Deputy Chief! I felt that at that level of management you take away some of your authority if you’re doing off-duty work,” said McKoy.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, wanted to know whether exhausted officers are being overworked through off-duty assignments.
“You cannot work today and do an off-duty job tonight. It’s prohibited,” responded Speziale. “You cannot work more than 16 hours.”
Council members gave preliminary approval to the ordinance on December 16th, 2014. A final vote on the ordinance will be held in January with a public hearing.
Alex Cruz, president of the police union, did not respond to a call seeking his comments for this story.