Monday, February 12, 2007

Police Secondary Employment: Part II

Note: Part I of this series, which describes the problems and the costs of secondary employment, can be found here.

PART II: THE SOLUTION

By the time December 2005 rolled around, Robert McNeilly knew that he was about to lose his job. Mr. McNeilly had been Pittsburgh's Chief of Police for nearly a decade, but the political winds had finally changed. His old patron, Mayor Tom Murphy, had decided not to seek a fourth term in office, and the mayoral election had been won by Mr. Murphy's longtime rival, Bob O'Connor. Although Mayor-elect O'Connor had indicated, prior to November's general election, that Chief McNeily might be permitted to remain in his post, nobody really believed that. The two men came from different political camps and had experienced trouble working with one another in the past. Instead, Mr. O'Connor would become Pittsburgh's new mayor on Tuesday, 03 January 2006, and it was common knowledge that Mr. McNeilly would be asked to relinquish the helm of the police department shortly thereafter.

Despite his imminent departure, Chief McNeilly had a few items of unfinished business that he wished to accomplish before he became unemployed. Among these items was a plan for the police department to assume control of all "secondary employment" by Pittsburgh's police officers. "Secondary employment" is the department's official terminology for the side jobs that city police officers engage in, providing security for private employers during their off-duty hours. In what was perhaps a bare-faced effort to make his secondary employment policies more difficult for the next mayoral administration to abandon, Chief McNeilly took the step of publicly describing his plans to reporters in mid-December of 2005.

At that point, Chief McNeilly had been pilot-testing his secondary employment ideas for nearly seven months, putting his plan into effect whenever off-duty officers were needed for "… anything requiring special-event, traffic-obstruction or block-party permits". These policies involved two big changes from the way that secondary employment had been handled previously.

First, private employers were required hire off-duty police officers by contacting and going through the Pittsburgh Police Department itself. This was a fundamental change from the past. Prior to this pilot program, these employers would either contact a qualified police officer directly, or would work through a small number of private contracting firms – most of which were owned and operated by a select group of police officers themselves – which recruited other police officers to fill the security needs of their private clients. By having the department take over the role of assigning officers to these secondary employment jobs, McNeilly's plan would essentially force these contracting firms out of business.

On one hand, this move would make the secondary employment process more fair for all police officers, since they would no longer have to rely on personal connections with the operators of these contracting firms to secure an off-duty job. On the other hand, the officers who ran these firms were decidedly not happy about things. One of them, Officer Daniel Novak, would eventually file a lawsuit in Federal court in an unsuccessful attempt to put a halt to Chief McNeilly's secondary employment policies.

It should also be noted that, by taking over the scheduling and billing arrangements for secondary employment, the city was also putting itself into the role handling the officers' off-duty payroll. All wages earned through secondary employment would be paid out via the officers' regular city-issued paychecks, all amounts would be recorded, and all necessary taxes would be withheld. "Under the table" employment – of the sort that played a role in the case of Deven Werling – would become a thing of the past, thus sparing city police officers from the temptation of violating our laws against tax evasion.

The second big change that was brought about by the McNeilly effort was the addition of a "cost recovery" fee that the city would collect from secondary employers. The idea here was for the city to collect a small amount of money from each employer to (finally!) recoup some of the financial costs that these secondary employment details inflict upon city taxpayers. Similar cost recovery plans are a common feature in many police departments, including ones right here in Allegheny County. The County Police, for example, charge secondary employers a whopping 22 percent cost recovery fee for any secondary employment by their officers. Since – as we saw in Part I of this series – these costs to the taxpayer can be rather sizable, and since the City of Pittsburgh had placed itself under Act 47 bankruptcy protection, Chief McNeilly's ideas appear to be a rather sensible attempt to bring in some much-needed revenue and make the secondary employers pay their fair share.

As noted above, these policy changes were not exactly welcomed by the everyone at the Police Department. At the time that Chief McNeilly discussed them with the press in December 2005, Ofc. Novak's Federal lawsuit – filed on 28 June 2005 – was already six months old. The case had been put on hold by the court until February so that everyone could wait and see what the newly elected mayor might decide to do with the secondary employment program. If Mayor-elect O'Connor decided to terminate the program, then there would no longer be any need for the case to proceed.

For its part, the incoming O'Conner administration didn't sound overly enthusiastic about these policies. The Post-Gazette's article about the program noted the following:

Indeed, Mayor-elect O'Connor could opt to do away with Chief McNeilly's plan.

"Bob has a number of questions about the proposal and he'd have to discuss it with the leadership [of the Police Bureau] and the officers," said Dick Skrinjar, Mr. O'Connor's spokesman.
Despite having its enemies and an unclear level of support from the mayor-elect, the secondary employment policy did enjoy a certain degree of backing. During the six-month pilot program, which covered only a limited portion of secondary employment details, the city had brought in $95,000 in cost recovery fees. Those revenues were very important to a city in financial distress, and the Chief's innovations were welcomed by Pittsburgh's Act 47 financial overseers. The plan also helped address a 2004 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that, "… the city discriminated in how it tried to recover costs for hiring city employees for special events", such as war-protest marches. By charging everybody for these costs, the city could argue that it was applying these fees fairly and was not discriminating against anyone.

According to the Post-Gazette's reporting at the time, even some police officers – including at least one officer who handled the contracting arrangements for other police officers – were not violently opposed to Chief McNeilly's proposals:
Several officers currently or previously involved in managing details declined to comment. But one who did talk, Sgt. John Fisher, said he had "mixed feelings" about the city's plans. He declined to be more specific. According to a tentative schedule, the Police Bureau will take over Sgt. Fisher's detail March 1.

Sgt. Fisher manages officers working security inside PNC Park and Heinz Field. He declined to say how much he earns by organizing the details, but said it wouldn't be "the end of the world" to lose that work.

On board with the chief's policy is the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the 418 officers -- nearly half the force -- authorized to work details. No one tracks how many officers manage off-duty work.
Admittedly, these were not ringing endorsements of the secondary employment policy, but they also suggested a willingness to let things proceed. And as far as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) was concerned, Chief McNeilly's plans presented some strong potential benefits for the bulk of their membership. The plan would allow all qualified police officers to stay informed about what sorts of off-duty employment opportunities were available, and allow them to take on these jobs without having to endure the messy internal politics of contracting with one of their fellow police officers. The McNeilly plan would also allow the union to negotiate the required wage levels of officers working secondary employment, and thus give the FOP even more control over this lucrative practice. And finally, since the officers' off-duty wages would be coming via their city paychecks, it would be impossible for any of them to evade payment of their required union dues.

Regardless of what the FOP was saying to the press at that time, however, the secondary employment policy was already running into trouble. On 15 December, just days after Chief McNeilly's plan had been reported by the press, City Council was getting ready to vote on a key element of it. At stake was the contract to purchase a $31,000 computer system which would handle all requests for secondary employment made by private employers, advertise the availability of these jobs on the police department's intranet, and allow officers to sign up for these gigs as they saw fit. After lobbying by former FOP president Eugene Grattan, City Council voted against the purchase request, and the secondary employment program appeared to be doomed. It's perhaps worth noting here that there was only one single vote in favor of purchasing this computer system, made by current mayoral candidate William Peduto.

But in the wake of this vote, things started to get a bit ugly at the FOP. As an anonymous commenter described in response to an earlier post:
Council originally voted against it because the former FOP president, Gratton [sic], a friend of Denny Regan and Frank Rende did an end run - council [then] remembered that Gratton was no longer the FOP pres. and changed their vote when the new FOP pres. [Michael Havens] told them he supported it.
Sure enough, just five days later and after what the Post-Gazette described as an "ironing out" of any differences with the FOP, City Council reversed its earlier decision and agreed to purchase the new computer system. It's perhaps worth noting here that there was only one member of council who failed to vote in favor of the purchase at this point, namely blog-wizard and strong supporter of Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl, City Councilmember Jim Motznik. Despite this lone dissenting voice of "The Gas Thief", things were definitely looking up for the secondary employment program. But there was still a new mayoral administration on the horizon.

On 28 December 2005, just days before Mayor-elect O'Conner was due to be sworn in, Police Chief McNeily was informally told that he was being fired. After a nearly a decade as Police Chief, and with some observers expressing sorrow about his departure, Chief McNeilly left the Pittsburgh Police Department on Friday the 13th, January 2006. He would be replaced, a few weeks later and amid a certain amount of controversy, by Mayor O'Connor's choice for Police Chief, Dominic Costa.

Unlike his predecessor, Chief Costa did not enjoy very positive reviews by those who pay attention to city government. His appointment was widely regarded to be something of a disappointment, and there were significant questions about the quality of his decision-making. But for our present purposes, the real question was whether he would go along with former Chief McNeilly's plans to implement the secondary employment policy.

The answer to this question seems to be a bit confusing. The general answer seems to be, "yes". Chief Costa had, as some kind of unspecified plan, a desire to have the city take over the scheduling and staffing of all secondary employment. But he wasn't willing to go along with former-Chief McNeilly's aggressive timeline in taking over any new secondary employment details, at least not those outside of the ones that were already put under city control during Mr. McNeilly's pilot program. For instance, the McNeilly plan was for the city to take over the off-duty work at Heinz Field and PNC Park by 01 March 2006. But Chief Costa wanted to spend some time understanding the policy and negotiating with the FOP before taking this step. In a deposition filed as part of the lawsuit brought against the city by police officer Daniel Novak (discussed above), Chief Costa had this to say about how he initially approached the secondary employment policy:
Basically what happened was when they changed the order [on secondary employment], I had just taken office, and the order came out of Commander McNeilly. … I went back to the old rule. I'm trying to tell you. When it came out, the new one, and I rescinded it, I just put everything back in place until we were done negotiating and figure out what's – you know.
While Chief Costa may have rescinded the rule about taking over any additional secondary employment details, there seemed to be some confusion within the rank and file about who was supposed to be handling off-duty work assignments. During the pilot program, Chief McNeilly had created something known as the "Special Events Office", which managed the computer system and handled secondary employment for the rest of the police department. This office continued to operate under Chief Costa, and was still charged with handling the same kinds of details that they had managed under the pilot program. But many officers were under the impression that all secondary employment either was or would soon be handled by the Special Events Office. This is clear from Chief Costa's testimony later in his deposition:
For whatever they're looking for [in the way of secondary employment], they will come in [to the Special Events Office]. They have been directed – most officers right now are directing people to come through the Special Events Office. I know when someone asks me for a detail, regardless of what it is, I send them to the Special Events Office. … I think officers are doing it, because they know that [the secondary employment policy] is up in the air. They're not really sure. So they just doing it that way to be on the safe side. … There is no order saying that you have to [go through the Special Events Office], because, again, it's in negotiations on how it's to be done. Some people are just referring [other police officers to the Special Events Office], because I guess they feel that that's the right thing to do.
With so much contrary direction going on, even from the Chief of Police himself, it seems very understandable that few people really understood what role this new office was playing in the department's secondary employment policy. Its future was also pretty unclear.

Back in the newly-elected Mayor Bob O'Connor's office, other things were happening with the secondary employment policy. A source whom I shall refer to as "Ganymede" claims that Dennis Regan, then the mayor's Chief of Intergovernmental Cooperation, was lobbying hard to kill the program. But the economics on this issue were fairly clear, secondary employment was costing the city money, and the city needed the funds that the cost recovery fee would bring in. By March 2006 Mayor O'Connor gave his blessing to continue the program, and (in all likelihood) to take it beyond where it was during the pilot program.

Chief Costa – presumably with Mayor O'Connor's blessing – certainly seemed to be ready, at some unspecified point in the future, to place all secondary employment under city control. He was specifically interested in taking control of the stadium details, but he saw some value in going slowly in taking this step. He was concerned with ensuring that the officers who were assigned to work these details were intimately familiar with how things worked inside of these venues. Here's how he described it in his deposition:
… so far I haven't gotten to the second phase of what I want to do, which is move into the bigger stadiums [sic] and auditoriums [sic], because I think it's important that if you have an arena – when I say "arena", I mean Mellon Arena, the ballpark, Heinz Field, those bigger arenas that have concerts and things like that – that you have officers who are familiar with the interior workings of the complex. Because if you need to get people out, you need familiarization with those types of things for the safety of the general public. That's why I didn't want to step on that yet – or to go into that area yet is a better choice of words, step into that area yet, because I needed to know more about the internal workings and why they need those.
Chief Costa may have been justifiably concerned with these kinds of public safety issues, but he also had a new problem on his hands. In March 2006, the FOP elected themselves a new president, retired Sergeant James J. Malloy. Mr. Malloy apparently did not agree with his predecessor's stance on secondary employment. The FOP filed a grievance against the policy that very month, on behalf of the officers who function as off-duty security contractors.

The grievance didn't get very far. According to Ganymede, the grievance went before an arbitrator a few months later. By early August, the arbitrator had ruled in the city's favor, giving it, "… the right to manage all details and charge whatever rates it chose". At that point, the city's plan was to begin to implement the full secondary employment policy for all off-duty work, starting at some point towards the end of the summer of 2006. Police officers were informed about these changes during their roll calls beginning on 18 August 2006. Letters were drafted and sent to an unspecified number of the larger secondary employers, and it really looked like the full McNeilly plan was going to happen.

But, of course, a tragedy was about to derail things. Mayor O'Connor entered the hospital, his health worsened, and things such as this internal police policy no longer seemed very important to anyone. Soon, the mayor would pass away, and a new mayor would take office. As far as the secondary employment policy was concerned, things were about to take a decidedly different course.

Part I of this series, which described the costs associated with police secondary employment, was posted yesterday. Part III, which will appear tomorrow, will examine the cost recovery plan's fate under Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

15 comments:

the comet said...

I'd love to see news clips on the Act 47 board's "welcoming" of cost-recovery plan.

I'd like to understand more about Gratton's alleged "end run" that almost killed the plan. Surely councilmembers were not unaware he was no longer FOP prez. Is the allegation that he was feeding council misinformation through backchannels, that weren't given a chance to counter? I don't get it.

I'd also love know what officers currently run the security programs at arena events -- just to see them, and to hear their take on the important special procedures.

I would encourage Ganymede to come forward, or someone else that has the same knowledge. I would actually discourage you from making up fanciful names for your anonymous sources; I think it makes it sound unnecessarily cloak n' dagger. Blogs have enough image problems.

I am looking forward to Part III in the same way I look forward to season finales of Lost or 24. I can see the teaser for "Next Time on the Admiral" showing a raucus, costumed crowd at Heinz Field...

Richmond K. Turner said...

Hi there, Bram. Maybe it is stretching things to say that the Act 47 Board "welcomed" the pilot program, but I really don't think so. It's clear that they were not at all happy when Luke Ravenstahl killed the program (but that part's won't show up until Tuesday). And, from what I have been able to dig up, they were very pleased that the police dept. had found a way to reduce costs and bring in some revenue at the same time. Granted, it wasn't a huge amount of money -- at least not from the pilot program -- but it was a start.

You know as much about the "end run" as I do. I provided the exact quote that someone left here in the comments. Do I understand all of the ins and outs of what happened? No. But clearly, they voted against it on 14 December. Clearly, from the P-G article, Gratton was involved in that decision. They then reversed their decision 5 days later.

I suspect that they knew he was the former president, but assumed that he was speaking in concert with the current leadership and the membership as a whole. It would be a logical assumption to make. It was only later that they found out that the current president has a different point of view.

I, of course, can't interview anyone for these posts. I don't have that kind of time to track them down and wait for them to return my phone calls, and in any event doing so would spoil the whole anonymity thing that I've got going on. But I did quote at least one of the officers who runs these details, as pulled from a P-G article. That will just have to do.

I can't make Ganymede come forward, now would I encourage him or her to do so. Like me, Ganymede no doubt has his or her own reasons for staying in the shadows. I respect that. I do feel that the information is reasonably solid, or I wouldn't use it.

I'm not trying to seem cloak and dagger by using code names, but since I have two sources for this series it would get confusing if I didn't call them something to keep the stories straight. I thought about "Thing 1" and "Thing 2", but I didn't want to get a cease-and-desist letter from the decendants of Dr. Suess.

I think Sawyer is, and has always been, one of The Others.

Anonymous said...

Great work.

"If you don't tell me what I want to know, then it'll just be a question of how much you want it to hurt."
-- Jack Bauer

Anonymous said...

Hear. Hear. Here! Here. Hear!

Smitty said...

Fisher and Novak are two of the extra duty employment specialists..they have been mentioned ad nauseum

Anonymous said...

Everybody knows that Gratton (his brother Eddie's money bought him access) worked closely with Rende on O'Connor's campaign and Gratton was bragging about killing McNeilly's off-duty program. I don't know what the Admiral's informants have to offer, but it's no secret that Rende has a big mouth and was bragging about his role in trying to kill the program thru Gratton and Regan. Also, I don't think there's any doubt that O'Connor was on board with the program. Otherwise, he wouldn't have fought the FOP at the arbitration you mention. Also, letters were sent to businesses alerting them of the program in '06. Also, there wouldn't have been anything for Luke to "kill" if O'Connor/Costa weren't supporting the program. Regan couldn't get anywhere with O'Connor, until, mysteriously, after O'Connor entered the hospital. Rumor is that Regan orginally planned to get rid of the 4 people in July who held him back, including Costa but he thought that Costa was the most popular of the 4 so he held off until later. Once he got rid of Costa the cost recovery plan started slowly unravelling.

Anonymous said...

What was Regan's personal stake in killing the cost-recovery plan? I can understand why some cops would like it -- more money, less oversight, keeping it in the family -- but I don't get Regan's motivation.

Richmond K. Turner said...

What was Regan's personal stake in killing the cost-recovery plan?

This is an excellent question. It's certaily one that I don't have the answer to. Some of the comments that have been left here suggest that Regan's motivation was to help out his friend and defacto brother-in-law, Frank Rende.

I suppose that that might provide some kind of explanation. But I don't know that it really makes much sense. I'm married. I have brothers-in-law. And I certainly wouldn't take the slightest professional risk whatsoever to intervene on their behalf in any kind of matter at all.

I would like a decent answer to this question, too. Why would Regan have such a strong desire to kill this program off? There must be more to it than just a desire to help out the brother of the woman that he lives with.

CC said...

Think like a rodent, not a normal person. You wouldn't waste your time/$ playing games, Regan did - do you think he even knows how to do anything constructive? Look at the lengths he went to to get Rende promoted? Did he do that for anybody else? Rende and Regan were friends for years, even before Regan started dating Rende's sister. Ask any cop who isn't afraid of being retaliated against and they'll tell you all about Rende and Regan.

McNeilly's system assigns off-duty work on a rotating seniority basis. Right now because of his relationships with Fisher and Novak, Rende works all the Pirates and Steelers games (at least $20,000/yr.), plus a lot of bar ($$$$) and construction jobs (more $$$$) plus work assigned through the city ($$$$). People were throwing jobs at Rende because he kept telling everyone of his connections in the mayor's office. If the City goes to a rotating seniority system, Rende's jobs will be spread around the entire bureau, so the rumor is he stands to lose at least $50,000. It's not that complicated.

Malificent said...

cc,

"...If the City goes to a rotating seniority system, (Rende) stands to lose at least $50,000. It's not that complicated."

Wonder if Regan gets a cut of Rende's $50K? It'd only be fair considering Rende uses his connection with Regan to get the jobs in the first place. How's that for a motive for Regan trying to quash the overtime reforms?

Anonymous said...

No doubt that $50,000 is a low-ball estimate. Cops get a 4-hour minimum for working any detail. He could work a Pirates game and then a bar and then a construction detail the next morning, then go to work for the City (they say Rende's hours are quite inconsistent these days - which he can get away with since Regan promoted him to plainclothes detective), well rested, of course.

If the City charged a 22% fee, (the Port Authority charges the same fee) they could've made $11,000 off of this one officer alone. If 23 cops work the inside of Heinz and PNC, the City would've made $253,000 at a 22% rate off of these guys alone!!! Add the 20 working traffic outside...

22% is probably too high, but ZERO is, IMHO, much, much too low...

Smitty said...

Regan's role in this is all about $$$..let's not forget he spent most of his life as a tinman, a siding guy,a flim flam,a con man.Why become Public Safety Director? It would give him more influence on the lucrative extra-duty work plus administrative control over guys like Fisher and Novak.

hot karl said...

$253K? That's 200 smoke eaters!

Anonymous said...

Just think of all the campaign literature Luke could mail out w/that kind of coin.

Seriously, the ultra-conservative $500k/year would pay the salaries of 10 patrol officers, insurance and pension costs included.

Supposedly, Luke ended this program after Denny left (ahem, cough, cough), so Luke owns this blunder, regardless of how much Denny's cut may be.

See what happens when you take your advice from people like Denny, Yarone and Jimmy Motznik, Luke? Might feel sorry for you if we didn't know that you're cut from the same cloth...

Mark Rauterkus said...

There were instances when the Police Overtime Payments did NOT come from the host of the special events. A sub regatta was up in The Strip one year and the men/women in blue didn't get paid.

One of the reasons that the Pgh Marathon went bye-bye, IMHO, was the overtime costs.

The South Side Summer Street Spectacular, a great time for locals to take their summer vacations, went bye-bye too. One of the reasons, police overtime. Plus there is a rub with private security guards, not in the streets but in the policy.

Should direct payments to off-duty police officers become extinct by blending a new big government oversight system, then private security firms could be more easily hired, IMHO.

Perhaps I should save this comment and additional thinking for part IV.

Great job mate.