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Low pay forces moonlighting, officers say

For almost a dozen years, this was police officer Doug Brooks' daily work schedule:

- Up by 5:30 a.m.- On the road at 6:15 a.m.

- At a part-time job by 7:15 a.m.

- On the road again at 12:15 p.m.

- Nap from about 1 to 2 p.m.

- On the road yet again at 2:30 p.m.

- At police briefing by 3 p.m.

- Usually off police duty at 1 a.m.

- Usually in bed at 2 a.m.

His average daily mileage: 50 miles. His average daily family time: almost none.

"It finally got to me," says Brooks, a 17-year Sandy police veteran. "After working 15 hours every day for as long as I've been working, I just needed a break."

About four months ago, Brooks quit his second job as a Delta Air Lines customer service representative and took a three-month respite.

"I had to reintroduce myself to my wife," he says. With a 2-year-old daughter and another child due in December, Brooks also wanted to have more time for them. "There was a question there as to whose kids they were for a while," he jokes.

It may be an extreme case. But it's a work predicament that many Salt Lake County police officers face.

Brooks is among a majority of law enforcement officers who seek secondary employment to supplement their primary income. "There isn't a police officer I know who doesn't have a part-time job," Brooks affirms.

Although few may carry a schedule as rigid as Brooks did, most departments estimate that at least 50 percent of their sworn officers perform some type of part-time work every year.

In some larger departments, including the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, the estimate is more than 80 percent. In some smaller departments, the estimate is less.

But the consensus is that moonlighting has become the norm rather than the exception.

"I don't know of that many other professions where people work a 40-hour week and then work another 15 hours outside just to get by," said Jann Farris, president of the Salt Lake Police Association. "Law enforcement seems to be that way."

For want or need?

Not all officers moonlight because they have to, however. Many already make at least an average living with their regular salaries.

For instance, Salt Lake police officers start by making $28,034 a year, receive higher wages for afternoon and graveyard shifts, and can choose various career paths that lead to higher pay.

By comparison, the 1996 average Utah wage was $24,572 and the average pay nationally was $28,945.

But still, about 65 percent of all Salt Lake police officers do at least some part-time work every year, said Sgt. Jo Wayment, the department's secondary employment coordinator.

About 55 of the department's 407 sworn officers work part-time hours on a regular basis, Wayment said. Others do it more sporadically, as when they need to pay off some debt.

Farris, who moonlights "a lot" as a security guard for LDS Hospital and the Delta Center, says part-time work is the only way to get some of the "toys" officers couldn't afford with their regular checks.

"My part-time work translates into payment of my Harley motorcycle," Farris said. Others moonlight to pay for boats, snowmobiles or four-wheelers.

But some have more compelling reasons.

Salt Lake officer Mike Hill, whose wife is a homemaker, has five children, including a son serving an LDS mission in Chile and a daughter who recently graduated from LDS Business

College. For the past six years, the 19-year veteran has moonlighted 25 to 30 hours a week, usually as a security guard at LDS Hospital, to afford groceries, house payments and a yearly family vacation, he said.

Salt Lake officer Dave Rowley, a 27-year law-enforcement veteran, said he's done all sorts of security part-time work during the past 13 years so that his family "can live in a little better environment."

However, he also has had to pay medical bills for a 19-year-old daughter diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that leads to blindness. His departmental insurance would not cover any of the costs until a few years ago, he said. Now the insurance pays 80 percent, but as the blindness increases, so do the bills.

Recently divorced Sandy police officer Jeff Kelleher said he's moonlighted regularly since joining the department five years ago. But, with joint custody of two children, the extra money has become more important after the divorce.

"We're no longer a dual-income family," Kelleher said. "If I didn't have to do it I wouldn't do it. But when it becomes a necessity you do what you have to do."

How much work is too much?

Although the lure of making up to $25 an hour could lead some to take more part-time work than they can handle, most departments leave it up to the individual officers to decide how much part-time work they should do.

"I don't see a direct problem," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Association president Perry Buckner. However, "I can see where there is some concern and where it probably needs to be monitored. That's why you have supervisors who should be watching for any problems."

As a single father in the early '80s, Buckner remembers having to work as many as three part-time jobs.

"It has a very serious toll, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally," he said. "There's only so many hours you can work before it wears you out."

To prevent that, some departments have restrictions.

The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office has a policy that "suggests we can work no more than 20 (extra) hours a week," said Sgt. Rod Norton. Other departments are considering similar guidelines.

But generally, departments only require their officers to get approval from their supervisors to perform any type of part-time work. All departments prohibit work that interferes with normal duties, is illegal or takes place in bars or sexually oriented businesses.

Officers are usually able to schedule part-time work around their 10-hour police shifts and still have at least one day off, Wayment said. But the biggest challenge is finding time for family and other relationships.

"It takes away from the quality time you spend with them," Kelleher said. "Your free time is taken away; it puts a little bit of a strain."

The strain became a little too much for Kelleher and his ex-wife, who is an FBI agent. She traveled a lot, and he moonlighted. Eventually, "it took its toll," he said.

Planning helps Hill work long hours and still have time for his family.

"I generally plan my schedule out in January and block out all birthdays, anniversaries, special get-togethers, like reunions, and then generally I'll plan a 10-day summer vacation someplace," Hill said. This year, he and his family visited Yellowstone and Mt. Rush-more.

He also takes Sundays and Mondays off, and Tuesday is "wife night." But the rest of the week he usually works all day.

A lucrative demand

Whatever the reasons for moonlighting, police officers are usually not at a loss of work.

Numerous businesses and organizations throughout the valley regularly contract police officers to do security work. Most police departments have a coordinator who posts the requests months in advance.

Generally, the party requesting the services pays a lucrative overtime-scale wage for off-duty security work.

"It's a reasonable rate for their training and experience," said Rich Humphreys, security manager for the Delta Center. "We have our own staff, but they are not trained as in-depth as police officers."

The advantages are obvious.

Recently, a woman accused a man of groping her during a crowded Delta Center rodeo, Humphreys said. An on-site police officer quickly resolved the situation, while it could have taken much longer to call an officer on patrol.

None of the officers interviewed could recall an incident where they or another officer fired a gun while moonlighting.

Often, a uniformed police presence is enough to diffuse an incident, officers agree. But to avoid legal problems, most departments require the company to sign an indemnification, so that neither the department nor the government entity it represents can be held liable for moonlighting incidents.

However, departments do allow their officers to use their uniforms, and sometimes their patrol cars, to perform security part-time work.

The only complaint from officers is that off-duty security work sometimes leads the public to believe that police stand around in private buildings while on the taxpayers' payroll.

Not so.

"It's one of those win-win situations," Hill said. "I'm not costing the taxpayers, it's helpful to me because I'm getting supplemental income, and it's helpful to the city because they are not pulling some officer off the streets" to respond to an incident.

"Juggling" better compensation

While police wages have gone up in recent years, some argue that the compensation package is still not adequate enough.

Buckner, who serves as a state representative for District 42 in West Jordan and Kearns, said there is a continuous "juggling act" between increasing police wages and increasing their numbers.

"I want to see officers protected, obviously," he said. But, "could they do better if they were making more money (with only one job) and not stressing themselves out? Yeah, probably.

But, "is the public willing to pay us professional wages for professional service? I don't know."

According to Buckner, the answer is not necessarily to raise taxes but to prioritize them. "I think the public would really accept that. But I don't know where you get the political will to do that."

A sticky point in the state law-enforcement compensation package is the 20-year retirement claus, which pays a 50 percent pension but does not cover health insurance. So many officers hang on to their jobs to qualify for at least a 30-year pension, which pays 70 percent but still does not cover health insurance.

The older an officer gets, the higher the insurance premium. Meanwhile, many officers continue to work several off-duty jobs without the time to obtain a degree or additional training.

"I think it's sad that these guys have to work that much part-time," Buckner said. "Is it stressful? Yeah. Is post-traumatic stress a problem? Sure. Is the pay (for what we do) terrible? Yeah. But you've got a lot of good people up there willing to do that kind of work.

"Do you think it's fair that guys sitting behind desks make huge amounts of money and that guys risking their lives are making little?"

"I don't think it's fair," Farris said. "But it's the nature of the beast. You're not going to get rich in law enforcement and so those who stick around and make a career out of it usually end up working extra-curricular jobs."

Brooks understands that.

After three months of "heaven" - sleeping eight hours a night and working around the house - he is moonlighting again as a security guard at a Sandy department store. But now he works only about 12 "flexible" hours a week and travels less than five miles a day through "no road construction."

Plus, he's sleeping more and spends time with his family daily.

"It was a nice three months off," Brooks said. But "once you become used to a certain income, it's kind of hard to give it up. Right now, I'm at a point in my life where I don't know if I can survive without a second job."