Moonlighting bill snags

Arundel police chief opposes work in bars

County Council conflict issues raised

August 08, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,special to The Sun

A proposal that would allow Anne Arundel County police officers to moonlight as bar bouncers might hit a pair of snags: the opposition of the police chief and a potential conflict of interest on the County Council.

A bill that would let officers hold second jobs in restaurants that have liquor licenses and in bingo parlors was introduced to the council Monday night, as expected, but an amendment that would add bars to their permitted workplaces did not materialize.

Councilman Josh Cohen, who submitted the bill at County Executive John R. Leopold's request, said he was taking over the amendment from the two councilmen who were initially pushing it. They are Daryl Jones, whose bar, Dotson's Live, closed after a fire in November and Jamie Benoit, whose wife owns a liquor store.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Anne Arundel County section Wednesday incorrectly identified the author of an ethics opinion on police officers holding second jobs. Members of the county ethics commission wrote it.
The article also erroneously said that a proposed amendment to a new bill on the issue would allow moonlighting officers to check identifications or act as bouncers at bars. Under the bill introduced by County Council Chairman Ron Dillon Jr., police officers could moonlight at restaurants and bingo parlors with liquor licenses to deter crime or arrest customers for illegal behavior. The amendment would have allowed officers to be stationed outside bars, too. The Sun regrets the errors.

Cohen, a Democrat from Annapolis, said he also wants to hear what the police union thinks of the measure.

O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union is unlikely to push for the bar extension because it does not want to appear ungrateful for Leopold's compromise bill. The group was scheduled to discuss the issue at a meeting last night.

Atkinson said the amendment is likely to become moot because Police Chief James Teare Sr. does not think that officers should be allowed to work in bars. The Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights gives the police chief the power to forbid officers to work in taverns, Atkinson said.

Through a spokeswoman, Teare declined to comment yesterday.

Officers have worked in restaurants with liquor licenses for years with permission from the former police chief amid conflicting guidelines from the county ethics commission that the jobs posed a conflict of interest.

Teare, appointed Jan. 1 by Leopold, turned to the ethics commission for its opinion.

Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the panel, recommended prohibiting officers from working in taverns. She noted that officers wear their county-issued uniforms while working on behalf of private employers and that the department has regulatory oversight over such businesses.

Teare was prepared to ban all moonlighting by July 11 until an officer filed a lawsuit about the change in policy.

With the backing of the union, Cpl. Thomas Middleton sued Teare and the county government and ethics commission July 11, contending that "scores" of officers supplement their income by working department-approved private security positions at businesses that serve alcohol. Middleton said he has earned as much as $14,000 a year in such jobs and relies on that income to support his family.

Teare suspended the ban until the lawsuit was resolved, and Atkinson said Middleton's lawsuit is on hold until the outcome of the vote on Leopold's bill.

Leopold was on vacation and could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a spokeswoman, Marina Harrison, said that he would oppose the extension to taverns.

"We are upholding the chief's original policy," said Harrison.

Benoit and Jones had volunteered to introduce an amendment to allow officers to work in taverns, defined as establishments with the primary purpose of serving alcohol.

Both bowed out at the 11th hour because of potential conflicts. Benoit's wife, Kari, owns Hops and Vines in Piney Orchard, and Jones still owns a liquor license for Dotson's Live. Cohen said he would introduce an amendment if the Fraternal Order of Police requested it.

The earliest the amendment could be introduced would be Sept. 4, when the County Council has scheduled a public hearing on a police overtime bill. Benoit and Jones would probably have to abstain from voting, Cohen said.

Atkinson said officers should be allowed to work in bars and that such work does not pose a conflict of interest. Before he became an officer, Atkinson was a bouncer at a restaurant in Greenbelt. He said customers behaved better when officers were there.

"People don't crawl to their cars to drive home when there's a police officer standing out front," Atkinson said.

Benoit said tavern owners also would be more likely to abide by the law if they employed officers. He dismissed concerns that officers would feel conflicted about busting their employers for not checking for underage identification.

"I think restaurants and bars will card more people with a cop sitting at the door," Benoit said.

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