Nov. 15, 2018 | View as webpage


For many cops, working off-duty is a way to supplement their incomes, especially at a time when some officers struggle to afford to live in the cities where they serve. But with agencies nationwide facing depleted ranks and mandatory overtime, adding hours to already long and stressful shifts increases fatigue, which can lead to a lack of situational awareness and contribute to near misses and errors, some of which can be fatal.

A recent city of Dallas audit criticizes the Dallas PD for failing to have "important internal controls" related to its off-duty work program and found that officers are working up to 72 hours at off-duty jobs each week. In today's Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults, Ed.D., details the pros and cons of off-duty work, the value of providing holistic wellness programs for your officers, and what police leaders should include in off-duty work policies.

How many off-duty hours per week are officers in your agency allowed to work? Click here to answer our online poll or email me at

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1

In this issue:
How leaders can monitor off-duty employment problems

By Chief Joel F. Shults

The Dallas Police Association noted that long hours and being overworked are likely factors in a fatal shooting by off-duty officer Amber Guyger. Guyger, confused and fatigued, entered the wrong apartment after a 15-hour shift and shot the unarmed resident after mistaking him for an intruder in her apartment.

A recently released audit showed that some Dallas police officers are working more hours off duty than they do on-duty. (Read the Police1 news story and full report). The report cites research on fatigue and performance as part of the issues of concern for the department.

The pros and cons of off-duty work

There is a lot to be said for allowing police officers to work off-duty jobs. Citizens get extra police presence at no taxpayer cost for salaries. Businesses are protected without generating calls for service to on-duty staff. Cops get extra cash.

On the downside, besides the potential for fatigue-related performance failure, the potential for off-duty injury and other increased sick leave use can reduce a department’s roll call strength. Liability to the department can arise from off-duty conduct depending on a variety of factors.

There are situations where the off-duty employer’s demands and expectations are not consistent with the ethics and standards of the officer’s agency. The temptation to use government information infrastructure – like running plates or searching criminal history – for private purposes is ever present. These, and other challenges, are strong incentives for police leaders to have strong policies on off-duty employment and careful monitoring.

Lifestyle education

As part of a department’s holistic wellness approach, providing officers with guidance about the potentially negative consequences of excessive off-duty employment can help officers make wiser decisions. A loss of family time can ultimately cost more, in dollars as well as relationships, than the value of the second, third and fourth paycheck. Providing officers with family support and sound financial management information might reduce the perceived need for additional income.

Accustomed to risk-taking, officers working off-duty may not fully appreciate the risk to their regular full-time employment. If their performance suffers, they may lose promotion and assignment opportunities in the department. Injury and sickness, or lawsuits and department discipline for off-duty conduct, can strain careers. For officers who become dependent on off-duty income, a layoff, suspension, or disability at work often means the loss of their off-duty work that is based on their status as a police officer, creating a personal financial disaster.

Monitoring performance

Agencies have broad latitude in controlling off-duty employment, but making drastic changes that restrict officers’ opportunities for extra income will be actively resisted and resented.

In determining if off-duty policies need to be changed, leaders should ask the following questions:

  • Are local policies consistent with the practices of other similar, neighboring agencies?
  • Have policy considerations been fully vetted from a risk management perspective, especially as it relates to the use of department equipment for outside employment?
  • Are officers surveyed to provide leaders with information on how many hours they may be working off-duty including employment that is not police related?
  • Are officers working off-duty generating more personnel issues than other officers? What are their absence rates, complaints, accidents and injuries, and other measures of productivity compared to officers with no or fewer off-duty work hours?

For most agencies, off-duty opportunities are here to stay, but the dash for cash must be optimized to meet the mission of the department first.

How police leaders can support holistic wellness for officers:

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Be advised

With more than half a million people homeless in the United States, law enforcement agencies are implementing innovative and collaborative approaches to address chronic homelessness. Check out these resources to learn more.

3. Top 10 reasons to start a police homeless outreach team: With an effective homeless outreach team, law enforcement can deploy strategies to solve chronic homelessness.

2. How one agency changed the dynamic of officer response to homelessness: Find out how the Vacaville Police Department built relationships and trust with its homeless community.

1. Using problem-solving, innovation and partnerships to address homelessness: A June 2018 PERF report provides a comprehensive overview of strategies from agencies nationwide.

Share this Briefing

You are welcome to share the Police1 Leadership Briefing. Forward this email to your command staff, supervisors and patrol officers; print and post in the roll call room; add a link to your department's website; or reprint in your organization or regional police association newsletter.

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