Saturday, February 3, 2007

Impersonating a Police Officer, for Fun and Profit - is it legal?

No, it is NOT (I thought everyone knew the answer to that one).

If, as a regular citizen, you buy yourself a Pittsburgh Police uniform and badge, you too might be ABLE to flag down speeding cars on I79 or Liberty Ave and get the drivers to pay you their "fine" in cash - and you "won't give out a ticket, this time" .. but this activity on your part is NOT legal .. you are "impersonating a public servant," goes the Law... and when caught, you go to jail. BUT when some citizens of Pittsburgh dress up in a police uniform, and go around the city acting as if they were on duty police officers, THEY can earn $30 to $60 dollars an hour - and get away with it ... wondering who these elite citizens are?? Read on!

First, let's look at this principal more closely .. PUBLIC servants and PUBLIC property are forbidden by law and practice from being used for PRIVATE profit. This means that if you are in coveralls and working for the Pittsburgh Public Works Department, it is illegal (and immoral) for you to contract your off-duty time to use your Public Works backhoe and truck (and some of that unused asphalt from yesterday's pour) to fix up a private driveway. Everybody knows this is wrong, right??

Pittsburgh officials are so sensitive to perceived official misrepresentation, that I understand that uniformed and badged Public Crossing Guards BY CITY DIRECTIVE must be out of their uniforms within (20 - 30 min?) a very short time after their shift, and back into civilian garb. Stay tuned, because one of the city unions have managed to cut a way better deal for THEIR members .. sure, it's ILLEGAL, but who will dare to challenge them, they think?

Can anyone imagine the uproar if one of the City's bus drivers was given permission from his/her supervisors to come in after hours, IN UNIFORM, and take a city owned bus full of city-paid fuel out for the week-end, so the driver could sell tickets on his own, for cash in his own pocket, to take a busload of citizens to Atlantic City for the weekend?

Even the Mayor's own secretary would be fired, if it came to pubic light that he/she had used city owned copiers, stamps and envelopes to mail out hundreds or thousands of personal "Amway" solicitations, right?

In Pittsburgh, there are only two elite gangs that have managed to hold themselves above the law, when it comes to impersonating a public servant for private fun and profit ... and these gangs have netted TENS if not HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of illegal dollars impersonating on-public-duty police officers. One last guess at who these criminals are, before I tell you??

Off-Duty Pittsburgh police officers and Sheriff Deputies have somehow gotten away with forming marauding gangs of off-duty (or sometimes retired) officers, who punch out at the department after 8 hrs, and instead of going home to their families or on to a legitimate second job, they stay dressed in their public uniform, keep on their public issued guns and badges, and in some cases keep their police marked vehicle filled with public paid gasoline, and insured by the City .. Thus publicly outfitted, they go to a second "job" (demanding cash with no records kept in some cases) from the very merchants who are "under their official thumb" during their public shift.

Those so called "off-duty" officers who offer (or demand?) to CONTRACT their (official?)services to private employers for undocumented cash or even legitimate (from the employer's standpoint) checks, are by definition of law"CRIMINALS", who are appearing in public uniform with the clear intent to confuse the fact that they are NOT on official police business - as a matter of fact, the last thing these criminal opportunists would want, would be for the average citizen who runs into them during this illegal work to know that they were not "official," but were actually working as an agent of a private business owner illegally. Remember, LEGALLY and MORALLY, no public servant can provide public services for private interests .. the days of the strike-breaking Pinkerton's are over!

So, after reading the above, can anyone tell the legal or moral difference between a public works backhoe driver contracting to do "his" driveway construction work "after hours" for cash under the table .. the City bus driver doing "his" job of driving citizens somewhere for private profit .. and a off duty Pittsburgh policeman doing uniformed/armed police security work at a downtown "titty bar" or club, for cash on the barrel head (or even a check)?

If someone can make a positive case for these officers illegal actions, I would love for you to post them here. Please remember though, that while the bus driver and backhoe driver have GENERAL legal prohibitions against doing the work as posited, Pennsylvania law enforcement officers have SPECIFIC legal restrictions placed on them, that directly prohibits them from contracting after hours to do ANY kind of security work without first obtaining a license (for which they are prohibited from getting). I will post these Penna laws in a future blog entry, meanwhile, why not call the police department or atty general's office yourself, and ask them why Pittsburgh police are allowed to violate state law for private profit?

Where has the local media been while this illegal police protection racked has grown?

Where are they now?


Bram Reichbaum said...

This is awful interesting. But it'd help if you provided the *name* of some establishments who hired off-duty public officials, and when, or provided the *name* of some of those public officials. Nobody can do much with vague generalities.

Grant W. Stapleton said...

Actually, Bram .. a Post-Gazette past news articles "google" of "off-duty" will give you a starting list of names of both the bars and some of the officers.

PennDot has long been the victim of this (Pittsburgh) "legalized" protection racket, and has been forced to pay directly or indirectly (through bidding contractors) many millions of dollars worth of "off-duty" officer fees, for officers that I am told sometimes never even show up for duty, but who are paid anyhow. This scam involves the city telling PennDot (and other contractors) that they can not use their own trained, insured and bonded traffic control personnel while within the city limits .. but that in order to get a work permit they MUST use even less trained and expirenced off-duty police officers .. and stipulating that they must pay these officers an amount that far exceeds what other insured and bonded traffic controllers would cost the taxpayer funded PennDot. As far as I am concerned this scam can be called nothing but EXTORTION.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Interesting stuff, Grant. I don't have a problem with the general idea of police working off-duty. A police officer who clocks out from the city and goes and stands outside a titty bar in the Strip District is still providing a visible uniformed presence that has some value to the city. In fact, if one accepts the fact that titty bars are places where trouble is quite likely to break out, it's a really fine idea. It makes the bar owner pay the price for the trouble they cause, instead of letting them dial 911 whenever trouble comes up and making us all pay for it.

There might be a problem with the off-duty officer driving a city-owned and city-fueled car to get to this off-duty gig, provided that the officer didn't have permission to take the car home. Some jurisdictions have take-home cars and others do not. Some allow them to certain officers and not others. I'm not sure what the PPD's policy is.

Where I think you have a real point is when businesses are targeted with demands that they purchase these services directly from the officers themselves. There is also a clear problem when the work is done under the table for cash. That's why the city tried to establish a cost-recovery program while McNeilly was still chief. It would have centralized the hiring of off-duty officers, making shakedowns and tax evasion far less likely (but not, of course, completely impossible).

I'm working on a post about this issue over at my own blog, The People's Republic of Pittsburgh. You may want to check it out. If you have anything to add to the debate, feel free to leave a comment there.

Smitty said...

Grant,I agree with your opinion that these off duty cops are trading on the City's name and legitimacy to make $$$ privately...that is why any and all off duty work should be handled by the City. We are a financially strapped city... any avenue of revenue collection should be the pursued and we as citizens should not be satisfied with perceived indirect benefits.City officers are City resources when they are in uniform.The city should get some $$ from this work.

Grant W. Stapleton said...

Richmond K. .. GREAT observations, and I will visit this fine site, which I have seen before.

Several problems I have with your thoughts though are that legally no individual is allowed by law (or good principals)to hire their own armed policeman who carries "publcly owned" arrest powers. A command to a patron who may be unruly from a legitimate insured and licensed guard is NOT enforcible by lethal force, as is the same command from a "policeman with arrest powers. It is a violation of every principal of freedom for some shop owner to be allowed to buy himself (publicly owned)police powers by paying some off duty policeman in uniform cash under the table.

As far as having the police department run a guard agency, that is specifically illegal (read the law prohibiting off duty police from doing any and all detective /guard work here) and also is a violation of free trade. How about having the public works department do your driveway for cash? etc etc.

Your ideas are good, but you just probably do not know these laws as well as do I .. because I am a long time license holder. Thanks for you great imput!