Cops As Security Guards

Posted on: by Robert C Smith | 1 Comment
Cops As Security Guards

Cops working for overtime at a bar or club.  Sometimes called an overtime detail or overtime officers detail or any other names.  This article will give you Pro’s and Con’s and my professional opinion on the use of cops at bars and clubs.

This question has so many answers and none of them are easy or simple.  Without thinking of all the possible positive and negative issues, the answer just seems to roll of peoples tongue one way or another; yes or no.

To be clear, I am totally against allowing off duty cops to work on their days off at a bar or club as a bouncer or security guard.  I’m against allowing the off duty cop to wear the t-shirt or polo shirt of the bar and check ID’s or work the club floor as a bar employee.  This is a very dangerous situation and places the cop, the city and the citizen’s in a very precarious position from a moral, ethical and professional standpoint.  However, what about those officers working in full uniform with a police vehicle, standing outside in teams of two?

This discussion will surround the practice of the individual law enforcement agencies allowing their uniformed officers to work 5 or 6 hour shifts, in uniform, with a police cruiser at the door of a bar or club, in an overtime capacity on their day’s off or after working a normal shift.  Their role is not generally to enter the club but more to be a visual deterrent to possible troubled guests while also being immediately present to handle early problems before they turn violent or deadly.

This practice of allowing officers to make some extra money is allowed in many cities and in nearly all the cases, the agencies have clear written and published guidelines on what the officials duties and responsibilities are while at the club or bar.  The language normally sounds similar to;

  • Officers will be a general deterrent for crime normally associated with alcohol service at a bar or club.
  • Officers will not take orders from the club or bar management, but instead will follow their normal department policies and procedures regarding the handling of criminal behavior or potential incidents.
  • Officers will not normally enter the establishment unless requested to assist employees with a problem they can’t handle.
  • Officers will not become involved in the operation of the venue and will are not to perform any of the routine tasks of the employees such as the screening of ID’s, enforcing dress codes and evaluating guest intoxication level before entering.
  • Officers will, when requested by establishment employees, assist in dealing with guests who may have become uncooperative, combative or be involved in some other illegal activity.
  • Officers will enforce the ordinances and laws of the city and state as appropriate.

Officer details, as they are sometimes referred too are normally a two-person unit that have scheduled this overtime position with their department after the bar or club requests an officer detail work at their establishment.  If the agency is thinking ahead, they will have another set of clear guidelines for the relationship between the establishment and the agency.

The guidelines will surround the hourly wage that will be paid by the establishment for each officer, the method of payment, workman’s compensation coverage, the minimum number of officers required along with the schedule for the officers.  I’ve seen, on occasion, some agencies that totally miss the boat surrounding this area and within a short time, officers are working while not wearing all their safety equipment, are getting paid cash by the bar or club, are parking across the street and not even visiting the door of the bar or club or worse.

Ok, here are the issues, “Pro and Con” that I’ve seen, experienced and heard from my clients across the country.  Please remember, this list may not be everything but instead, the list is what I know of and what I’ve seen.  There may be other issues not mentioned here and I encourage feedback on issues I may have missed.  Here we go.

PRO – cops are a great visual deterrent for the potential bad guests.  This is true and easy to understand.  Think of it this way.  Don’t you normally consider all the proper rules of the road when you’re driving and see that cop in your rear view mirror?  Sure you do; Seatbelt, speed, full stop, etc.  The cop hasn’t even noticed you in front of them but they are a deterrent for you to follow all the rules.  Many operators love having cops around their door and feel it keeps the bad guests away.

CON – Cops scare away guests when they just park out front or stand at he bar door.  Yes, this is also occasionally true.  Guests who know they have a simple traffic warrant or who use recreational drugs or who know they have a buzz may not want to walk right up to the door and open themselves up to a conversation with the nice officers.  Some operators have guests who just don’t like the police and are afraid the police scare guests away.

PRO – Bouncers can threaten the uncooperative guest by saying; “Hey, just leave, the cops are right out our front door and will arrest you”.  Threatening to have the guest arrested carry’s more weight when the cops are indeed right out the door.

CON – Uncooperative guests are normally over-intoxicated and don’t care about the threat of police involvement and normally think they did nothing wrong or were justified.

PRO – When we have trouble, the cops are already present and can deal with a violent guest.  This is true.  No 911 call needed, as the cops are standing right outside.  The cops can quickly talk to the “suspect” and “victim”, truly determine if a crime was committed and make an arrest if they are able too.  The operators are always worried about calling 911 and this seems to take that out of the worry category.

CON – When we have trouble, the cops still document the incident even though we didn’t call 911.  Well, this is true too, especially if they have to arrest someone.  The record of the incident is recorded and can also be used against the bar or club at a license hearing or review of a CUP or music permit.

PRO – We have a better relationship with the cops.  Yes, the cops know you, your staff and are friendly and outgoing.  They understand your operation better and aren’t as likely to take real enforcement action against you should they see something your staff does wrong.

CON – The cops are always cops.  They may look the other way for some minor, non-important issues.  However, if they see a major issue, they will take action, even if it’s telling another cop or state ABC Agent to allow them to take action.  Yes, the cops are always cops.

PRO – The cops are present to arrest someone if they need too.  If we have a good violation, like a fake ID at the door, a drunk who won’t leave or an injury from a fight, the cops are there to make an arrest and punish the bad guest.

CON – The cops don’t arrest anyone, they just make them leave.  Remember, if the event you want someone arrested surrounds a real act of violence; stabbing, shooting or a really violent assault, the cops will arrest and do the paperwork.  However, you must remember they are on an overtime detail and get paid for 5 hours of standing around or making arrests.  So, think about it, what has less work involved; standing around or making arrests?

This issue is the largest single complaint I hear about and have seen myself with uniformed officers working in an overtime capacity.  They’ve worked a full 10-hour shift already and have done 2 or 3 long detailed reports for a domestic violence arrest or a narcotics traffic stop.  The very last thing they want to do now, at a bar or club is to make a misdemeanor arrest for a fake ID or minor assault.

So, what happens?  The bouncer or manager walks an obviously intoxicated guest who pushed and slapped them to the officer.  The officer asks some questions, puts the drunk in handcuffs and talks to the employee victim.  The cop says the suspect doesn’t seem that drunk and is willing to leave the area on their own.  The cop says the suspect didn’t know the bouncer was a security guard and wants the guard arrested for assaulting them.  The cop says they didn’t see the incident and might have to arrest everyone involved.

Hell, the manager or bouncer was doing their job and the drunk assaulted them.  Yeah, it was a minor assault and the employee isn’t really hurt.  Not wanting to argue with the nice officer or risk an arrest, the employee tells the cop to just make the guest leave the area.  The cop gathers the guests basic information and lets them walk away on their own.

The cop goes back to standing around, the employee walks back inside to continue their shift and the guest is allowed to go home.  This type of event really pisses me off… the solution is simple but not for this discussion.

CON – It’s expensive to hire 2 or 3 overtime cops to work a bar or club.  And, if you have to use 7 or 8, it can get really expensive.  City to city the pay varies but as a average rate consider each single officer makes $35 dollars an hour.  Time and a half means the bar pays approximately $53 dollars an hour for one officer.  Multiply that one time and for that 2-person mandatory assignment for 5 hours on a Friday and Saturday, the bar is paying approximately $530 dollars a weekend for the two officers.  Now add in an extra $2 dollar an hour service charge for the patrol car and the workman’s comp and the club or bar at about $550 per weekend.  Yikes.

CON – When the cops don’t do what they are supposed to do, we’re afraid to complain in fear of some sort of retaliation.  Whether real or perceived, the idea of retaliation from the enforcement agency is on the minds of every bar or club operator.  I’ve only seen true retaliation on a couple of occasions so, it’s a rare thing.  But, the fear is absolutely real.

CON – When the cops do act, often times they act inappropriately towards the guests.  I’ve seen overtime detail officers who needed to be home sleeping instead of working another 6-hour shift outside of a bar.  The “fed up” attitude can be literally be felt by the employees and nothing can be done.  When the cop is forced to interact with an over-intoxicated guest, they often times are very aggressive towards the guest, pushing or shoving the guest down a sidewalk while repeating several threats to arrest them.  This type of interaction is frustrating to everyone involved and solves nothing.

To close this discussion out, the off duty, overtime detail officials want and sometimes depend on the overtime dollars they’re paid.  The bar owner wants the cops to help them create a safer environment for the guests.  The operator would like the cop to be proactive and do what they should do but too often don’t.  The community hopes that alcohol related crime goes down and their neighborhoods are safer.

In the end, that invisible wall between cops and the establishment continues to be built higher and thicker, creating silent distrust between the two groups.

In my opinion, using an overtime detail is too large of an expenditure for bars and clubs.  They pay off for the bar or club just doesn’t materialize.  For the officers, working these details offers too many areas for the officer to compromise their ethical oath.  The job is hard enough to do while fighting off the temptation of breaking the law or internal policies.  It’s nearly impossible to succeed when so many possible bad options are put in front of an officer working at a bar or club.

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One Response

  1. Pat Murphy says:

    Great article! You bring up some very important considerations.

    There will always be a question as to whether the officer is on duty (being paid by the City) or if they are off duty (being paid by the club). The distinction is important when someone decides to sue for an injury sustained during an “arrest”. It is a legal relationship that every club should understand clearly and not just believe they are off the hook because the officer is in uniform. It’s tricky. Ask your attorney.

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