After more than a year of investigation that included intensive surveillance, Jersey City has placed 11 police officers on restricted duty, pending the outcome of a federal probe into allegations they abused city policy and laws that regulate off-duty private security work.
Apparently initiated by the city department of Public Safety, the investigation centers on the way Jersey City police officers work off-duty shifts providing security and traffic control for road openings and construction projects.
Although the fees for officers and supervisors are set by an agreement between the city and police unions, officers are not paid directly by the contractors.
The allegations include allegedly taking payments from contractors without reporting these to the city. The investigation apparently also looked into whether or not officers allegedly coerced cooperation from contractors as well.
Off-duty problems have surfaced before
Sources inside the police department said some officers may have also been doing these off-duty services while on duty, which means they would be paid by the city for regular police work as well as taking off-duty under the table payments from contractors.
“For some time, we have been working with the FBI on an investigation into allegations of misconduct by a number of members of the Jersey City Police Department regarding the off-duty program.” – Jennifer Morrill
This may have involved required police escorts of overlarge vehicles. Some officers, while on duty, may have been escorting the vehicles and being paid by the contractors in cash.
“For some time, we have been working with the FBI on an investigation into allegations of misconduct by a number of members of the Jersey City Police Department regarding the off-duty program,” said city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. “At this point in the investigation, we have made the decision to take an administrative action to remove the firearms of eleven active members and place them on non-enforcement duties. This remains an ongoing investigation.”
How the alleged abuses came to the attention to public officials has not yet been revealed. The city is expected to make a formal announcement that will include representatives from the U.S. Justice Department in the near future.
Sources inside the police department, however, said that the investigation may have resulted after a contractor had been charged with a crime not involving the police, and as part of a plea agreement, gave up the police operation.
Part of the investigation, however, required leaving officers in place during a period that may have lasted as long as two years. The city changed supervisors overseeing these off duty operations twice as part of the probe. No supervisors, sources claim, are believed to be part of the scheme.
While city officials had expected further action from federal authorities for several months, the action taken last week signals imminent legal action.
Violations of policy may have also taken place
Sources inside the police department believe that the city has uncovered illegal activity as well as violations of police policy. Police officers are not allowed under policy to work more than 16 hours without a break. Some officers worked as many as 24 hours at a time, at on duty and then off duty jobs.
While some city officials say that number is about 14, sources inside the police department say as many as 17 could be involved in the alleged illegal activity, while as many as 20 more have allegedly violated police policy for hours worked.
Police sources say this is not a new problem. A similar scheme was allegedly uncovered about ten years ago. Although it was investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office at the time, police officials said the issue was kicked back to the city, partly because the department did not have a rigid policy in place governing off-duty work.
This resulted in revamping the off-duty police duty program in 2007, setting up fees over which the city had much more control, and limiting the number of hours officers could work.
Two years ago, apparently in light of the current investigation, the city increased the number of supervisors overseeing off duty operations and set a new fee schedule.
Off-duty jobs are seen as a perk, but not all officers take advantage of it. The city charges an administrative fee to cover the bookkeeping costs associated with handling the payments from contractors of $12 per hour.
While one police officer has supposedly pled guilty in connection with the ongoing scandal, city officials said they will make a formal announcement within a few weeks, which will include statements from the U.S. Justice Department.
Those close to the investigation said the city brought in the FBI to help work with them in dealing with the issue.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.