Every day, law enforcement officers across the country don their uniforms, strap on their gun belts, and head to work. They carry the equipment and weapons they have been issued and bear the badges that symbolize their authority, but they are not all reporting to the government agency that employs them. Instead, many are “moonlighting.” From directing traffic at a busy church parking lot, to making arrests at a packed nightclub, to using deadly force—uniformed off-duty officers exercise the full panoply of police powers while working for private employers.
The private employment of off-duty officers blurs the line between private and public policing, raising questions about accountability, officer decision-making, police-community relationships, and the role that police agencies play in modern society. Thus far, however, the employment of off-duty officers by private companies has almost entirely evaded the attention of legal scholars. This Article is the first to provide an empirical assessment of moonlighting in the United States, reporting the results of an original survey of nonfederal law enforcement agencies that collectively employ over 143,000 full-time sworn officers, almost a fifth of all state and local officers in the country. A substantial majority of agencies—about 80%—allow officers to engage in moonlighting, and tens of thousands of officers at those agencies log millions of hours every year working for private employers. Yet governing law and agency policies reflect substantial variation in how off-duty employment is regulated. Moonlighting may be the norm, but as the multitudinous justifications for it, the many issues its raises, and the inconsistency in statutory and administrative regimes suggest, there is a strong need for attention to this area. This Article starts down that path by identifying stakeholders and considerations necessary to the development of professional best practices.
The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.