Same As It Ever Was

Three years after the Denver Police Department promised to change its off-duty policies, tending bars still pays off.

So if moonlighting is such a symbiotic relationship, why all the controversy? Other metro-area police departments provide one explanation. Cities such as Aurora and Boulder don't let officers moonlight at bars because they want to avoid situations where officers are "working for two masters." Technically, off-duty officers work for the city even though they're being paid by the bar owners. The job of an off-duty cop isn't to help out the bar's bouncers; it's to enforce city laws.

"So if you've got an officer working at a bar and he sees the bartender serving an obviously intoxicated customer another drink, what does he do?" asks Aurora Police Department spokesman Bob Stef. "On one hand, he's working for the city and is supposed to write a ticket for this. On the other hand, he's being paid by the bar owner. It's an awkward situation we avoid by not letting officers moonlight at bars."

Denver police spokesman David Metzler says that kind of policy shows that other cities don't trust their officers to do the right thing--such as write up the bartender for a municipal violation.

But Jerry Kennedy says potential conflicts of interest aren't the source of controversy. He chalks it up to plain and simple jealousy. First, he says, you've got public jealousy. Many average citizens don't like to see officers getting paid $20 for their mere presence--which often closely resembles standing around.

"It's difficult to call it work," says Kennedy, who now spends most of his days standing around the golf course. "I knew one policeman who used to earn his extra money by working wrought iron. Now, that was work. That guy would be falling asleep at red lights the next morning. Most of the time you're working off-duty, all that's required is your presence."

Kennedy says the other, bigger, source of jealousy comes from within the department. He knows all about that. Before he retired almost a decade ago, he was in charge of farming out every major off-duty job in the city. Kennedy started out moonlighting at a 3.2-beer bar and eventually acquired a monopoly on the city's off-duty work. After more than twenty years with the force, his jobs ranged from providing security for Broncos games to guarding hotels where Elvis Presley stayed. (His friendship with Presley earned him a brand-new Lincoln, courtesy of the singer, and an ensuing date before the city ethics committee.) According to one veteran cop, if an officer wanted to moonlight anywhere besides the senior citizens' bingo hall, he "kissed Jerry's ring."

Kennedy laughs this off now, but he admits that interdepartmental jealousy was one of the reasons he was sent out to the gulag--otherwise known as Stapleton Airport--in 1988. But soon after Kennedy's disciplinary reassignment, other officers requested to be transferred out to the airport to work in his unit. Whether this was because they wanted to stay close to the man who handed out the good jobs is left to speculation. "I had one gal come up to me," says Kennedy, "and she said, 'Kennedy, is it true you only let your friends work?' Hey, I don't hire my enemies! But basically, it was all poppycock. I got the good jobs because I was dependable, and so was my crew. Some guys got pissed because they screwed up and got axed. End of story. I'm sure it still happens today."

Today, concerts, festivals and Broncos, Nuggets and Rockies games are all handled by specific officers, who hire their own crews. Broncos games, for example, require up to eighty off-duty cops; the idea is that having one officer in charge makes things easier for the cops and the event managers. But for all of these jobs, paperwork must be filed with Sergeant George Maes at the Secondary Employment office. Ten years ago the DPD created a $62,000-a-year sergeant's job at department headquarters to broker and monitor all off-duty jobs. A bar owner will call Maes to request a cop for moonlighting duties, and Maes will refer an officer from a waiting list. The officer negotiates his own deal with the bar owner, and if they can't come to terms, then the bar owner doesn't get an officer. This rarely happens.

The Denver Police Department currently employs 1,400 police officers. Though the department refers to the Secondary Employment office as a "control mechanism" for the chief of police to keep tabs on who's working off-duty and where, the office refuses to say how many cops moonlight and how much money they earn doing it.

And in the case of Christou's bars, it seems as if the office can also be used to keep bar owners in line.

Christou explains: "If you're coming up for a public-nuisance hearing, which is the most common way the city can shut you down, it's essential to have an off-duty cop there to testify about how you run your bar. A judge may not listen to the owner, but they'll always listen to a cop. So if you don't have off-duty cops working for you when that hearing comes up, you're screwed."

DPD spokesman Metzler says that Christou is reading too much into Chief Whitman's decision to ban off-duty cops at his bars. "This has nothing to do with Mr. Christou as an individual," says Metzler. "This is not a conspiracy. But the fact is that off-duty officers aren't there to make his operation run smoothly. He's supposed to be able to run these clubs without cops babysitting him. And until he gets his excise and license problems resolved, we're going to pull our officer out of there."

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