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Lexington police tighten policies on off-duty employment, require uniforms, cameras

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 10/21/2020 By Beth Musgrave, Lexington Herald-Leader

Lexington police are increasing reviews of all off-duty jobs and requiring officers to wear uniforms and body-worn cameras if the work includes enforcing laws.

The department has had an off-duty employment policy since 1973. It’s been updated several times over the last 47 years. The department made further tweaks in July. Before July, the policy hadn’t been updated since 2015, said Lexington Police Commander Brad Ingram. Ingram oversees the department’s public integrity unit, which reviews off-duty requests.

Homeowners associations, large apartment complexes and private businesses, such as the Fayette Mall, hire and pay police officers for off-duty work. Other common off-duty assignments include traffic control for churches.

Ingram told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council’s Planning and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that he did not have exact figures for how many officers work off-duty assignments, but most have outside employment. Not all officers work off-duty assignments. Some work retail or other part-time jobs.

The 2015 off-duty policy assumed most officers working off duty would not be in uniform. That’s no longer the case, Ingram said.

Before July, companies that wanted to hire off-duty officers were given “blanket” approval for two years. But the job duties of those officers were not listed. The policy was also silent on whether a police officer had to enforce private policies of that business.

Now, companies that want to hire off-duty officers must list the job duties of those officers to get approval. The revised policy makes clear that officers are not supposed to enforce business’ private policies, such as dress codes.

Any off-duty officer that is asked to enforce laws or act as a police officer must be in uniform and must wear a body-worn camera, according to the new policy.

That issue arose in February 2019 when now-retired police chaplain Donovan Stewart worked off duty at the Fayette Mall and got into an altercation with a Black teenager. A bystander captured the only video of the incident, and it showed Stewart hitting the teenager while the child was on the ground. Stewart said the teen hit him first, and the bystander video doesn’t show the entire altercation.

Stewart was not wearing a body-worn camera because he was not issued one as a chaplain. The police have since ordered additional cameras to ensure that all officers have body-worn cameras by January 2021. Currently, roughly a third of police officers don’t have one.

Lexington Councilman James Brown asked the police to update the council on the department’s off-duty policies after getting questions from the public. During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Brown said that the recent changes to the off-duty policy to spell out job duties and the purchase of additional body cameras for officers helped address some of the concerns raised by the incident involving Stewart.

“I know one of the reasons that we have been talking about it was there was an incident where a body camera wasn’t present,” Brown said.

“The fact that the chief, or his designee, or the department as a whole takes a look at individual assignments and potential pitfalls before they agree to allow an officer (to take that off-duty assignment) is important,” he said.

Companies hiring off-duty officers must provide documentation that they have up to $1 million in general liability insurance and up to $100,000 in workers’ compensation insurance. Ingram said the city is considering increasing the amount of required workers’ compensation insurance.

Those prerequisites are in place to protect the city in case an officer is sued while performing off-duty work.

The chief can also revoke any off-duty assignment if it is determined that the off-the-public-payroll job jeopardizes that officer’s official duties.

Plainclothes off-duty assignments are still allowed but are thoroughly vetted, Ingram said.

“Plainclothes assignments . . . require an additional level of scrutiny,” Ingram said.

Ingram said the department recently turned down a retailer’s request for plainclothes police officers to watch for and catch shoplifters. If officers are enforcing laws, they need to be in a police uniform, he said.

Some work is prohibited. Officers cannot work off duty in bars, as private investigators, as civil process servers or as investigators for the defense in cases, Ingram said.

Officers working an off-duty assignment must tell supervisors when they are working in uniform.

Police sometimes use those off-duty officers to respond to calls if they are closer than an on-duty unit. That happened when three people were shot at the Fayette Mall in late August, he said.

“We had several off-duty officers at the mall at the time,” Ingram said.

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©2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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