Thursday, February 26, 2009

IMPD Changes Policy On Off-Duty Work

Mayor Greg Ballard and Public Safety Director Scott Newman wasted no time in making a policy change in IMPD's policy towards police officers working off-duty security work in the aftermath of the disclosure that a scrap metal business under investigation, OmniSource, employed 51 off-duty police officers including an officer who investigated scrap metal thefts. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy writes:

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department command staff will be barred from holding almost any outside job and other officers will be barred from working jobs related to their police duties or beats under new "secondary employment" rules announced this afternoon.

The changes were spurred by the announcement earlier this week of an internal investigation into a scrap metal recycling firm that employed 51 city police officers, including the lead investigator of scrap metal thefts.

Ballard said he felt it necessary to address the situation because it threatened public confidence in the police force.

"Integrity is of utmost importance," Ballard said in a press conference in his office. "Any outside work or conduct which interferes with their duty (as officers) will not be tolerated."Newman said the metal theft investigation required the department to look at itself critically and make changes to what he called "cultural practices that are many decades old." He said the command staff must be above reproach because he and the mayor rely on their judgment.

Newman said that he planned to overhaul the process of approving outside employment work permits, which he said in the past involved little oversight. He said the chief's office only denied work permits if the venue was strictly off limits, such as a strip club or working inside a bar.

The problem encountered at OmniSource was entirely foreseeable. Fortunately, O'Shaughnessy took the time to check the Star's archives on Chief Spears off-duty work for Colts' owner Jim Irsay. O'Shaughnessy writes:

About two years ago, Spears dropped his own second job as a security officer for the Indianapolis Colts after The Indianapolis Star reported he worked four games during the 2006 season.

Police experts called the relationship a conflict of interest though it did not violate department policy. Spears had directed the team's security operations for several years before becoming chief in 2005.

I only wish O'Shaughnessy had dug a little deeper in his archives to learn just how big Spears understood those holes to be in the department's policy. Almost seven years ago, Roger Harvey, then a reporter for WTHR, did this brilliant in-depth investigation of possible prescription drug fraud involving Colts' owner Jim Irsay. Harvey's report revealed that Spears' predecessor, Chief Michael Zunk, performed security work for Irsay at the time federal and local law enforcement officers were investigating Irsay and several area doctors. Who was Marion County Prosecutor then? Scott Newman. Who was head of IMPD? Michael Spears. Who was the Marion County Sheriff? Jack Cottey. What former sheriff currently owns a security firm that employs off-duty police officers? Jack Cottey. Whatever became of the Irsay investigation? Nothing. What will become of the OmniSource investigation? If past is prologue, probably nothing.

Mayor Ballard tapped Newman for Public Safety Director because of his 8 years' experience as Marion County Prosecutor. Newman knew upon taking office that IMPD had a long-standing, largely unregulated policy of allowing police officers to work off duty in uniform, using their police cruisers and equipment. IMPD is not compensated by private security services for the use of uniformed police officers with cruisers as is customary in many other large cities. Only recently has the City considered a change that would require police officers to reimburse the City for off-duty fuel consumption after fuel prices reach a certain threshold; however, the recent decline in fuel prices means the City is likely to recover little, if any at all.

A recent lawsuit against IMPD by a local doctor nabbed in a sex sting at NIFS health club facilities raised serious conflict of interest and abuse of power concerns where police officers were being employed for off-duty work, alongside other police officers working undercover at the facility to rid the club of reports that men were engaging in sex in the club's locker room. One of the criticisms I heard from my suggestion that IMPD require compensation by private security firms for the use of uniformed police officers was that it would make the City liable for officers off-duty work. From the appearance of this lawsuit, the police department is encountering potential liability problems under its current policy.

I'm happy to see the Ballard administration is taking some action to change its current policy. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical that it's all just window dressing. Too many times in the past we hear about changes that are being made to restore confidence in our police department. Later, when nobody is looking, things return to business as usual. What about all of those busts of police officers last year involving IMPD officers? Anyone heard anything about any of those investigations lately?


Vox Populi said...

Someone just lost the FOP endorsement for his reelection campaign...

Unknown said...

Don't forget that Spears was chief when a Colts player struck or knocked down an IPD officer in a parking garage Downtown.

It was captured on the parking garage video system.

The tape then "mysteriously" disappeared from the IPD Evidence Room.

Obviously, no charges were filed, and Spears continued to work for Irsay.

Anonymous said...

In reference to you wondering what happened with last year's arrests of officers, one has plead guilty in federal court, sentence is said to be about 10 years. He is supposed to be testifying against 2 others who are set for trial.