Moonlight trouble

Our view: Police should not routinely work part-time to provide security outside bars and clubs

November 12, 2008

Moonlighting is a time-honored tradition for Baltimore police. It's a way to earn extra money. But the police commissioner wants to restrict the practice because of concerns he has about public safety. That may sound at odds, but Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III says businesses that hire off-duty officers to provide security at bars and nightclubs are farming out a responsibility that should be theirs alone. He has a valid point - some police working in the city's entertainment district have become entangled in situations that pose a potential liability for officers and the department.

Outlawing all after-hours work by police in this economy would be unfair; working at a Home Depot is different from being a bouncer at the door of the Baha Beach Club. Commissioner Bealefeld recognizes that and wants only to keep his police from providing security outside clubs and other businesses that serve beer and liquor. Police can't work now inside such clubs.

The commissioner's concerns stem from two incidents last year in which moonlighting, off-duty police shot patrons outside a South Baltimore club and another man in a downtown parking lot. In a third incident, police were accused of beating a college student outside the Power Plant Live.

Businesses that hire cops to patrol outside their clubs do so because a uniformed officer can serve as a deterrent to trouble. And if there is trouble, they know that a call from an off-duty police officer will be answered promptly even if it's not an emergency. Incidents that begin inside a club can spill out onto the street and draw police into a situation that could have been handled or prevented by a security guard who was posted inside.

Despite the new restrictions, businesses that expect large crowds for a special event or concert will be able to petition the department for a detail of uniformed police, whose overtime pay will be covered by the business but distributed by the department. That arrangement makes sense, but the business should also have its own security guards working inside the establishment. It's a compromise that would help businesses and limit the potential for problems that concern the commissioner.

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