With Seattle’s construction scene exploding, the off-duty jobs at work sites and new garages represent a huge source of income. Some are alleging two companies that hire off-duty officers for the jobs may have engaged in intimidation and possible price-fixing.
The FBI is investigating allegations that Seattle police officers, with the help of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, may have engaged in intimidation and price- fixing while working lucrative off-duty jobs directing traffic at parking garages and construction sites.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole confirmed Tuesday that she referred the allegations to the FBI and the department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which conducts internal investigations. She said any further comment would be inappropriate.
“We immediately took action,” the chief said, adding that she was confident the investigation would leave “no stone unturned.”
FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said the bureau does not acknowledge investigations.
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The allegations came from the founders of Blucadia, an Olympia-based startup and competitor to the two private companies that provide most off-duty officers for traffic control and security — Seattle Security, which is aligned with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), and Seattle’s Finest.
With Seattle’s construction scene exploding, the off-duty jobs at work sites and new garages represent a huge source of income.
The investigation comes at a time the Police Department is looking at ways to gain control over off-duty work, which requires official permission of the department but is difficult to track and monitor.
Seattle police this year endorsed Blucadia as an alternative to Seattle Security and Seattle’s Finest, providing the Olympia company a portal on the department’s web page that the other operations do not have.
Blucadia bills itself as a software provider similar to Uber, matching officers seeking off-duty work with customers without employing the officers. Both Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security employ the officers they hire out.
Blucadia officials claim they’ve been blackballed by SPOG, and cursed at by its president, Kevin Stuckey, and have run up against reluctance among potential business clients afraid of angering police, worried they won’t show up for traffic control or emergency calls.
Stuckey did not return telephone messages Tuesday seeking comment.
Rob McDermott, Blucadia’s chief executive officer, said Tuesday that he has talked multiple times to the FBI and provided information to OPA. Under department procedures, OPA investigations are put on hold if a criminal investigation arises from alleged officer misconduct.
McDermott said he repeatedly attempted to work with SPOG, but the union sent a memo to its members questioning the business model adopted by Blucadia and whether officers would be insured if they are injured while working off-duty for Blucadia.
McDermott also said Stuckey made a profanity-laced telephone call to him last spring after Blucadia had tried to set up a meeting with SPOG officials.
“At the start of this morning’s call raising your voice to me, you said, ‘Who the [expletive] do you think you are?’ ” McDermott wrote in an email response to the telephone call. “I was shocked in the moment by your tone and aggression.”
“Your call, actions, and words were incredibly intimidating because yes you do have a gun and badge and are an officer,” McDermott wrote in the email, a copy of which was reviewed by The Seattle Times.
Keeping track of off-duty work by Seattle police has been an issue for years, during most of which the police union handled all of the arrangements.
After concerns about the number of hours officers might be working and an exploding overtime budget, the work was farmed out mostly to the two companies that now dominate the market: Seattle’s Finest, run by a retired 20-year former police officer, and Seattle Security, a business that spun off from SPOG and has SPOG leaders on its board of directors.
Raleigh Evans, president of Seattle’s Finest, on Tuesday dismissed Blucadia’s concerns as sour grapes “from a company that’s got a failed business model.”
But Blucadia is not the only company complaining, according to Rod Kauffman, executive director of the Seattle King County Building Owners and Managers Association.
Kauffman said he recently heard from several association members who employ off-duty officers and are concerned about rate hikes, the “possibility of price fixing” and possibly excessive “management fees” on top of hourly rates.
“We have agreed to look into how they set their rates. Our members would like to know more about that,” he said.
Evans said Seattle’s Finest hasn’t raised its rates in three years. He would not say how much an officer is paid, except that “it’s more than $50 an hour” and that officers get a minimum of four hours’ pay for every shift they work, regardless of whether they work that long.
“Otherwise, it’s hard to get them to come into Seattle on their days off,” he said.
The company also charges clients to cover insurance and businesses expenses and taxes.
Evans did say, however, that there are some officers “who negotiate and manage their own contracts” with garages or construction companies.
He characterized the competition between Seattle’s Finest and the SPOG-overseen Seattle Security as “friendly.”
“But there is no collusion. We don’t have ties to the Guild,” Evans said. “It’s a competitive arena.
“So if there’s any funny stuff going on out there, it’s not us.”
Last June, departing OPA director Pierce Murphy expressed concerns about off-duty employment by Seattle officers in his final remarks to the City Council. Citing private jobs such as traffic and garage control, Murphy said that although the officers work in uniform, the work is unregulated and poorly managed.
The practice, steeped in union contracts, raises ethical and conflict-of-interest issues, liability concerns and questions about workload exhaustion, he said, calling the problem a “ticking time bomb.”
Some officers make more money working off-duty than on their regular jobs, Murphy said, noting Chief O’Toole is concerned about the problem and needs the ability to regulate it.
“This is all about money,” Murphy said.