Many major cities let private companies hire city cops for off-duty security work. But not many cities are quite like Miami, where some nightclubs operate 24/7 and tourists and the wealthy openly flaunt hard drugs. For years, officers with the Miami Police Department have been hired to work all sorts of private security jobs at restaurants, parties, events, and — through some fun loopholes in city laws — even at or near nightclubs where they're technically banned from working. Police-reform advocates have long argued the city's drug-fueled nightlife and underscrutinized overtime rules make the system ripe for abuse.
Now a city audit has again confirmed what those critics have been saying for years. In a 23-page report issued yesterday, the Miami Office of the Independent Auditor General found rampant problems with the city's off-duty police work program — including that the off-duty and on-duty assignment desks don't communicate with each other and that cops are rampantly booked for on- and off-duty shifts at the same time.
"Overall, we have concluded that internal controls were inadequate to ensure that extra duty employment hours scheduled and worked were accurately recorded by both the City and the third-party employer; and that MPD officers are not paid by both the City and outside employer for the same hours for regular and extra duty assignments," the report states.
Extra-duty security work is an extremely lucrative business for Miami cops, who get hired to work all sorts of details in situations where party promoters or restaurant owners want some extra muscle watching over their events but don't want to hire private security guards, who sometimes lack training or experience handling crowds or unruly patrons. Auditors noted that between 2015 and 2018, Miami PD officers earned more than $70 million in extra-duty assignments — including $19.4 million in 2017 alone.
Off-duty work is assigned by a separate office and software system than on-duty jobs, and city investigators complained there is basically no central system to track how cops are paid off-duty. Some are directly paid by their secondary employers. Others get paid through the city payroll system. But the Miami Police Department has few, if any, checks to ensure cops aren't working overlapping shifts. In fact, auditors studied January through March 2015 and found, in that three-month period alone, officers reported a staggering 657.25 hours where they said they were either working on- and off-duty shifts at the same time (which is not allowed per departmental codes) or two different off-duty security shifts at once. One in ten off-duty shifts in that timeframe overlapped with other police work in some fashion.
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The city also bars officers from working more than 16 hours per day. But in just the three-month period in 2015 that auditors studied, rule-breaking was rampant. Auditors found 185 instances in which cops worked more than 16 hours per day. From 2015 through 2019, officers worked more than 2,000 extra-duty hours per year 49 times. One cop in that timeframe reported working 3,714 extra hours in a single year — the equivalent of working an 18-hour day every day of the year. (The Miami Herald first reported on the audit last night.)
As said before, this is not the first time critics have raised these complaints. In 2013, New Times reported that officers who were making money working security in the city's downtown nightclub district had been raiding bars in the nearby Wynwood neighborhood in what appeared to be a favor for downtown club owners who didn't want to lose business to the up-and-coming arts district.
Technically speaking, cops are banned from working at bars or nightclubs, but a report last year from Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) showed that bar owners simply hire cops to patrol nearby parking lots while the city looks the other way. The CIP report revealed that cops working off-duty had been accused of a raft of misconduct — everything from threatening people who bothered their off-duty employers, to watching women twerk on a cop car, to allegedly breaking a woman's elbow. The CIP found that in 2017 and 2018, not a single cop was disciplined for working over the overtime-job hourly limit and that officers brazenly insulted internal investigators who tried to rein in their conduct. Separately, city investigators found that MPD Capt. Javier Ortiz, the department's former union chief, once reported working 27 hours in a 24-hour period.
Neither the CIP nor city auditors are asking that cops be banned from working off-duty shifts. But both agree one major fix could help alleviate the problems: Hire an outside firm to assign shifts. In October, MPD Chief Jorge Colina told New Times he agreed as well and said he'd been trying for months to overhaul the department. In the meantime, city auditors found that cops seem to be working so many off-duty hours that their day jobs are likely suffering "due to fatigue."