County argues rules for off-duty police

Lift work limits, Leopold urges

July 23, 2008|By Steven Stanek | Steven Stanek,Sun reporter

County Executive John R. Leopold has asked the Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission to issue a special exemption allowing off-duty police officers to work second jobs at bingo halls and other establishments that serve alcohol, a stance the commission has long opposed.

The request came Friday, the same day that the Maryland Ethics Commission said that a county bill allowing police officers to moonlight at such establishments was invalid because it does not conform to the state's ethics law.

The state ruled that permission could be granted only through a special exemption granted by the county ethics commission, which has argued in the past that police officers who work secondary jobs in alcohol-serving establishments may be tempted to overlook minor illegal activity there.

Leopold has taken issue with that position and issued a written statement Friday imploring the county commission to shift its course.

"I trust our officers and have full confidence that they bring their dedication to enforcing the law to any secondary employment they may have," Leopold said. "I also believe that we cannot limit the county's ability to recruit and retain law enforcement officers by prohibiting where they can and cannot work if they have a second job."

Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the county ethics commission, could not be reached to discuss the issue.

In a three-page advisory opinion issued last July, the commission wrote that a conflict of interest "exists when a police officer, wearing a county uniform, and appearing to be acting as an employee of the county, is acting primarily on behalf of, and being paid by, a secondary employer who is subject to specific police regulatory authority."

The next day, Anne Arundel police chief James Teare Sr. issued an order banning police officers from working in places where alcohol is served. The order would have taken effect last July but was pre-empted when a veteran officer sued the chief, county government and the ethics commission, saying that scores of officers work in department-approved private security positions in places where alcohol is served.

Leopold introduced his legislation shortly thereafter and has received wide support from members of the county council, including chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican who signed the most recent request to the county ethics commission.

County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson said the state ethics commission took issue with the procedure, not with the county executive's position.

"The state ethics commission to my knowledge has never issued an opinion that it's inappropriate for police officers to work secondary employment in stores [serving] alcohol; all they have taken issue with is the process," Hodgson said.

Councilman Josh Cohen, an Annapolis Democrat, has also supported the measure and said that the council is "interested in addressing the state's concerns."

The consensus of the council is we support allowing police officers to have secondary employment," Cohen said. "Now we need to jump through these legislative hoops."

Officer O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county police union, said the ban would include places such as the Laurel Park racetrack, restaurants such as TGI Friday's, and even Arundel Mills mall, where many officers have held secondary jobs as security officers.

"Our primary concern is that it would put officers out of work with regard to their secondary employment, and it would also create a gap in public safety that the department would have to pick up," he said.

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