State's highest court backs right of police to hold a second job Only 'reasonable rules' may regulate practice, appeals judge declares

August 06, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Police officers who make extra money as security guards and on construction sites cannot be barred from doing so simply on an order from their chiefs, Maryland's highest court has ruled.

The Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the Montgomery County police chief could not prohibit Officer Robert F. McCullagh from providing security at a Silver Spring apartment complex as punishment for failing to get written approval for the part-time, $14-an-hour job.

The court ruled unanimously that a 1984 state law specifically allows police officers to moonlight and allows only "reasonable rules" to regulate the practice.

The law "could not be clearer: it denies law enforcement agencies the power to prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in secondary employment and, at the same time, permits those agencies to regulate that employment by promulgating reasonable rules for that purpose," Judge Robert M. Bell wrote in a 35-page decision.

The court said that what a police department must do to adopt "reasonable rules" depends on the wording of the city or county's codes, but in Montgomery the chief needed County Council approval.

The ruling reversed a March 20, 1995, decision by a Montgomery County Circuit judge, who upheld an order by then-Chief Clarence Edwards that prohibited the seven-year veteran from working at the Northwest Park Apartments for three months in 1994.

The appeals court ruling was praised yesterday by several police officers who said moonlighting is a common practice because of the need for a second paycheck.

"It's about time somebody agreed with us," said Agent James Harlee, a 17-year Baltimore police veteran, who works about 20 hours a week providing security at stores, malls and private events. The father of three said he earns about $36,500 as a city officer, making a second job necessary.

He said the Baltimore Police Department also requires written approval before an officer can moonlight. But he said the rule is often ignored by officers working short term at construction sites and in other temporary positions.

"I've been complaining about that [written requirement] for years," Harlee said.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, estimated that about 90 percent of the city's 3,100 officers moonlight.

"Unfortunately, the reality, if you're an officer in Baltimore, you need more than one paycheck to support a family these days," he said.

The starting salary for an officer graduating from the police academy is $26,713, he said.

He said he hopes the ruling will help the union persuade the department to ease restrictions covering when and where officers are allowed to moonlight.

They currently are prohibited from working at taverns and other businesses with city-issued liquor licenses, he said.

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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