The executive order issued Wednesday by Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess comes a week after it was disclosed that the FBI is investigating allegations of intimidation and price-fixing in off-duty work at construction sites and parking garages.
Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess signed an executive order Wednesday handing control of officers’ off-duty work to the Seattle Police Department, a dramatic move that came a week after it was disclosed the FBI is investigating allegations of intimidation and price-fixing in off-duty work at construction sites and parking garages.
The order, when fully implemented, would take management of the work away from private companies that, for years, have dominated the lucrative Seattle off-duty market.
Burgess, a former Seattle police officer who was sworn in as mayor last week after former Mayor Ed Murray’s resignation over sex-abuse allegations, said at a City Hall news conference that he issued the order on the recommendation of Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to address conflicts of interest and long-standing lapses in the oversight of off-duty work.
“These practices were not stopped in the past,” Burgess said. “But ignoring them stops today.”
His order calls for the creation of an internal office in the Police Department, directed and staffed by civilians, to regulate and manage off-duty employment.
It also creates a task force of city officials from various departments to produce recommendations by Nov. 14 to reform management of off-duty employment and set a timeline for establishing the new office.
“I intend to take action before I leave this office,” Burgess said, noting the new structure will be created without additional costs to the city.
As a longtime City Council member who will serve until a new mayor is elected in November, Burgess has played a key role in police-reform efforts.
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While there have been patchwork efforts to fix problems over the years, the overall system has operated outside the control of the Police Department.
More recently, Seattle’s construction boom has driven demand for off-duty work to new levels.
Officers must get permission to work off duty, but the department has no way of tracking how many hours an officer might be working.
There also have been concerns about the coziness of the two off-duty-officer staffing companies that dominate the market: Seattle’s Finest and the police-union-supported Seattle Security Inc. — although many officers apparently work on their own, negotiating contracts with garages or merchants.
Raleigh Evans, the president of Seattle’s Finest and a retired Seattle police officer, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) President Kevin Stuckey issued a news release saying, “If there are changes sought by the City, why can’t those changes be accomplished at the bargaining table? This is yet another example of the City violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and State Labor Law. SPOG ALWAYS follows the CBA and State Labor Law!!”
The guild will take legal action, Stuckey said, adding, “Not to oppose the changes, but to demand that the City stop circumventing State Law.”
The department has tried to gain control what some officials worry might be a monopoly, and in the spring endorsed a newcomer — formerly Cops for Hire, now called Blucadia — as an alternative, placing a link to the company on the department’s website. Blucadia matches officers with customers.
According to Blucadia’s founders and officials within the Police Department, the company’s efforts were met with opposition and alleged intimidation.
Rod Kaufmann, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association Seattle King County (BOMA), believes the mayor’s order is “a move in the right direction.”
Kaufmann said he is going through a questionnaire about off-duty police employment sent to BOMA members after concerns about price-fixing and lack of competition surfaced.
“So far, we haven’t seen any outright corruption or intimidation that we know of,” he said. “But my members are concerned about prices, and they are concerned about transparency and how prices are set. The mayor’s announcement seems like it will address that.”
Burgess said he couldn’t discuss whether he has spoken with customers who use off-duty officers because of the FBI investigation.
A Seattle parking executive who operates several downtown garages told The Seattle Times that off-duty officers are so hard to find, given the amount of work available, that officers can pretty much ask what they want.
The executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation by police, said the company recently lost an officer who had been injured and had to hire a replacement. The previous officer was paid $55 an hour, with a four-hour minimum, to direct traffic for about 2½ hours a day.
The new officer asked for — and received — $120 an hour. The executive said the officer gets paid for at least two hours, but usually worked three.
Two other garages have seen hourly rates for off-duty officers increase from $65 an hour in 2014 to $80 an hour this year, the parking executive said.
“We had no choice,” the executive said. “It’s simple supply and demand, which I get.”
The city requires that only sworn officers be employed for traffic control, and the parking executive said that decision has cut options and costs money. There is no reason a professional flagger can’t do the job, the parking executive said.
“It’s just silly that only police can do it,” the executive said. “But nobody wants to take on the police union.”
Two incidents this spring apparently pushed Seattle police officials to ask the FBI to open an investigation. The first was a profanity-laced telephone call by SPOG President Stuckey that Blucadia’s chief executive officer, Rob McDermott, said he found threatening.
Stuckey has acknowledged the call and said he lost his temper.
The second was a conversation McDermott and another Blucadia official, Andrew Finley, a former Pierce County sheriff’s deputy, had in April with an off-duty Seattle officer working in uniform outside a downtown garage.
In a detailed memo, they said Officer MacGregor “Mac” Gordon, a 32-year department veteran, described the lucrative off-duty system in organized-crime terms — repeatedly using the word “mafia” — and said nobody would be allowed to interfere with it.
Their notes said Gordon told them about “squeezing” a building owner for more by threatening not to show up for traffic control.
“If they refused to pay more, he would threaten to leave and ensure no other cops would work the job,” the notes said. Within “a day or two with no cop, the building manager would be calling back asking him to please return, quickly agreeing to any new rate.”
Gordon has acknowledged the conversation, but said he was “joking,” that things were taken out of context and that any reference to squeezing a building owner was a lie.
McDermott took his notes, his concerns about being blackballed, and the conversation with Stuckey to the Police Department’s internal-investigation unit, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and O’Toole. She immediately referred the allegations to the FBI and its public-corruption investigators.
O’Toole, in response to Burgess’ executive order, issued a statement saying the department, “with a sense of urgency,” would develop and implement a transparent system to manage off-duty work.
Previously, internal department watchdogs had warned about the dangers of allowing off-duty work to exist outside the department’s purview, and police-accountability legislation passed by the City Council in May calls for a civilian-staffed internal office in the Police Department to manage secondary employment.
In other cities, such as Denver and Portland, off-duty police work is managed by the department under city policies.