By Tasha Tsiaperas and Robert Wilonsky The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Dallas police officers are working too long and too often for off-duty employers, says a city audit released Friday.
In Dallas, officers can end up working longer hours at their off-duty jobs than in their actual police work, and their bosses often don't stop them.
Other cities, according to the city audit, seriously limit how much cops can work off duty.
Currently, officers can work up to 72 hours at off-duty jobs each week. The audit suggests the amount be slashed to 24 hours a week, which could have a significant impact on how much extra money officers take home.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a prepared statement he knows many officers rely on off-duty jobs to support their families and that businesses need uniformed officers for security.
"However, it does us all a disservice if we don't follow our own orders intended to keep police and the public safe," he said.
The Dallas Police Department's general orders limit officers to working 16 hours a day, on duty or otherwise.
But the problem is it's not even clear exactly how much officers are working off duty "because DPD does not track off-duty employment hours worked as required," the report says.
The department recently was criticized for the long hours cops work after off-duty Officer Amber Guyger fatally shot 26-year-old Botham Jean inside his own apartment.
Guyger was in full uniform and reportedly had just gotten off a 15-hour shift. She told investigators she went to the wrong floor and tried to get into Jean's apartment believing it was her own.
The internal review of work hour policies in the Police Department began almost a year before the September shooting.
"This was being looked at way before the Guyger shooting," said Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association.
Mata echoed the mayor and said that officers need the off-duty jobs and that businesses, including churches and synagogues, like to employ uniformed cops.
"The need is there," Mata said. "It all comes down to really we don't have enough officers."
The department has a little more than 3,000 officers, well below peak levels of about 3,700.
Though officers are scheduled just 40 hours a week, they often stay late taking someone to jail or responding to calls, which could push them over the recommended 16-hour limit if they're also working off-duty jobs.
The audit doesn't detail how to reduce the number of hours Dallas officers stay on the job. It simply says the total number of hours cops work should be decreased, primarily focusing on limiting off-duty jobs.
According to DPD's General Order 421.00, which is supposed to regulate the off-duty employment program, "working extra jobs is a privilege and not a right," says the audit.
Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall released a statement Friday afternoon saying the audit focuses on the "hours that officers spend on off-duty jobs they voluntarily choose to work."
"We have reviewed the results and agree with the findings that have been presented. Policy review is underway, and we look forward to implementing the changes that are necessary to ensure the safety of our officers and the community," Hall said.
The audit criticizes the department for failing to have "important internal controls" related to its off-duty work program.
The audit analyzed the period between October 2015 and September 2017, and found that of the 276,455 requests to work off-duty jobs, 99 percent were approved. Of those, 86,851 weren't approved until after the off-duty job began.
Many other big-city departments, among them Houston and Detroit, Hall's hometown, do not allow this. If those cities allow the off-duty jobs, they have a "dedicated or centralized authority over the off-duty employee program," the audit says. Many also establish rates of pay for officers taking part in the off-duty program.
Mata said he's concerned the city might try to control how much businesses pay officers, and he fears the city might charge businesses a fee to use off-duty officers.
Off-duty cops can be seen working at concerts, sporting events, parades and large races, among them the annual Dallas Marathon. The city doesn't pay for the overtime in those cases, said Terrance Hopkins, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas.
Hopkins organizes police response to those large outdoor events, such as the recent Dallas Bike Ride downtown. He said those jobs usually average about four hours at a time.
Officers have been told city officials are reviewing the audit but have not been told whether any changes will be made.
Hopkins said that it's too soon to say what the reaction will be but that "officers will be concerned because that's one of the ways you make some additional income. That's important to people."
The audit relies, too, on outside research, including the 2002 study Tired Cops: The Prevalence and Potential Consequences of Police Fatigue.
That study found that in more than 60 big cities across the country, many officers were often working somewhere between 80 and 100 hours a week — and occasionally more. The study said that officers in all police departments work "substantial amounts of overtime, and that more than half moonlight.
As a result, said the study, many officers and their managers reported "personal experiences with fatigue, exhaustion, and extreme drowsiness."
And 11 out of 15 cities surveyed in the audit limit their officers to working 36 hours or fewer off-duty hours per week.
"It appears our number is not in line with best practices," said North Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, chair of the council's Government Performance & Financial Management Committee. "We have a liberal allowance for overtime hours and have no idea how many are working that amount. It may be no one, but we would never know because of the lack of controls."
Gates, who had been briefed on the audit before its release Friday, does not doubt there will be pushback from officers who work the maximum hours allowed.
"But we have to implement," she said. "The chief has agreed, and we will support her. The risk is too high."
Perhaps, Gates said, increased salaries approved by the council in September will soften the blow. Starting salaries went from around $49,000 to nearly $60,000. And all first-responders making about the starting salary will receive a 3 percent raise in January.
Whatever city officials decide to change in the Police Department will also need to be changed with Dallas Fire-Rescue, the audit says.
Supervisors often don't know when and where cops are working off-duty jobs. Officers can end up working up to 112 hours per week under the current system, or the equivalent to three full-time jobs. Dallas lags behind other cities in establishing firm controls for off-duty police work. The current policy can create a conflict of interest between department policy and what officers are asked to do by their off-duty employers.
Limit off-duty jobs to no more than 24 hours a week. Implement oversight instead of leaving approval to individual supervisors, and ensure requests are submitted early. Update the department's general orders.