Council members debate city fee for off-duty officers

Cincinnati Police officers who work off-duty for private businesses, wearing city uniforms and carrying city issued guns, will soon have to pay the city back $4.90 for each hour of that off duty work.

According to the city budget passed in December, the charge will generate 750,000 dollars a year. A spokesperson for the city's police department says most of that money goes towards the salaries of the officers who are spending some amount of their duty time regulating outside employment details.

They say the fee also goes in part to pay for scheduling, permitting, and behavior oversight since off-duty officers still represent the department out in the community.

Whether voting for or against the budget, a number of council members were unaware the final call had been to charge city officers and hourly fee for off duty work rather than per detail.

"No, no, no, no, no," city council member Leslie Ghiz said emphatically. "You're not charging an officer who does an eight hour detail 40 dollars to do the detail to pay for the administration of this. That's crazy."

Ghiz says she thought the budget had called for a onetime fee instead of hourly.

"We were like 'Oh, we can live with that', the 4.90 onetime charge per detail," Ghiz said.

And Ghiz was not alone.

"I did not understand that this was going to be charged to the officer for each hour of the detail that he or she works," Councilman Wendell Young shared. "It was never my intent to do something to bring in additional revenue. It was my intent that we were doing something to cover the administrative cost."

Young says the hourly fee is excessive, but that there has to be a middle ground.

"I don't want to take work away from police officers, I don't want to punish them for trying to feed their families, I don't even want to punish people that want to hire them," he said.  "But the reality is there is a cost that the city should not have to absorb."

Now Ghiz is working with council members to come up with a motion that takes away the hourly charge.

"This is a perfect example of the budget that was passed by the majority of council that wasn't structurally sound and now we have to go back and clean up the mess constantly," Ghiz said.

Not everyone is on board with making the changes, however.

"Whether it's five dollars an hour or five dollars a detail we should be paid for the cost of the service," Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan said.

Quinlivin says since it costs the city an estimated 750,000 in administrative fees to oversee the off duty work, the off duty officers should pick up the tab.

"We  are spending tax payer money to organize the off duty, extra work of police officers and we should not be paying for that," Quinlivan said.

Even if Ghiz gets the signatures, the work is not over. Ghiz will have to show where the city can get an additional 750,000 to make up for the budget loss.

"Probably the emergency reserve fund," she said. "That's probably where we will end up getting it."

"We don't have much time but there's time enough to do what needs to be done," Young said.

Young says he would like to see the city let the police union take the matter to their membership and decide the best way to come up with the money. He says that could include an officer-generated fee or a free paid by the businesses hiring off duty officers.

Police officers in the city earn $31 dollars an hour when working off duty.

Council member Ghiz says the motion she is working on is going to have to be signed, sent to committee, and then head back to council.

Depending on the implementation of the ordinance, the police union says they will consider filing a grievance. Kathy Harrell, FOP President, says if the number of details are reduced due to officers deciding not to take on the extra work, it could result in increased calls for service to the department. Harrell says off-duty officers are a benefit to the city since they provide increased police presence and visibility around town.

While individual officer lawsuits could also be coming down the pipe, the union's lawyer says he is optimistic about council revisiting the ordinance and therefore avoiding any litigation.

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