This is no time for the mayor to take a poke at moonlighting cops

SHARE This is no time for the mayor to take a poke at moonlighting cops

Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week said the city should more closely monitor the side jobs officers work when they’re off duty.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

At a time when Chicago police officers are feeling demoralized and the city is struggling to recruit new officers, we can’t imagine why the mayor would take a poke at the cops for moonlighting.

If the Chicago Police Department’s rules on side jobs for cops are too loose — and we’re not convinced of that — the time to fix the problem was during contract negotiations with the officers’ union, the Fraternal Order of Police. That did not happen, though we understand some final work on the deal is being done. The new police contract, ratified by the union’s membership in August, contains no new restrictions on outside employment.

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To push on this issue again, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot reportedly did in an interview last week with Axios, strikes us as unnecessarily divisive, especially at a time when the city should be fully focused on enforcing a more pressing new rule for cops — that every officer get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In the interview with Axios, Lightfoot said she wants the city to more closely monitor the side jobs police officers take on when they’re off duty. Among her concerns is that the taxpayers of Chicago are on the hook for expensive legal settlements when something goes wrong on those side jobs. In the last five years, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation, CPD has paid out more than $10 million to settle at least 32 lawsuits against off-duty officers.

“When you see them in hotels, bars, restaurants, other places, they look like they’re on-duty police,” Lightfoot told Axios. “And we [as a city] end up being liable in court for the work that they’re doing that is not authorized by the department.

“It’s a risk management issue,” the mayor continued, “and we’re going to keep fighting for [more control] in arbitration.”

The Chicago Reporter found that CPD’s rules on outside employment are the weakest in the nation among big city police departments. Other departments require officers to get permission to do outside work, limit the number of hours they can moonlight and prohibit them from working jobs that might create a conflict of interest, such as for a casino or strip club.

Other police departments impose greater limits on moonlighting not just to reduce the risk of expensive lawsuits, but also to make sure officers are fresh and rested.

Our own view on the matter goes more like this: Cops are big boys and girls. They know they have to show up rested and alert to do their jobs right, and what they do on their off time should be left to them as much as reasonably possible.

If a cop does a bad job because he’s tired and stressed, then the city should lower the boom on him for doing a bad job — a fine, a suspension, dismissal, whatever — not for staying out really late the night before working security at a bar.

City Hall shouldn’t necessarily close the door on imposing limits on moonlighting, especially to minimize conflicts of interest, but the time to do so was during the heart of contract negotiations. That ship has sailed.

Meanwhile, the FOP should drop its resistance to a much more urgent rule being pushed by the mayor, mandated vaccines.

As we wrote just last week, there is an appropriate role for organized labor in negotiating the practical rules of the mandate, such as making sure employees get paid time off should they need to be quarantined. The Laborers International Union of North America-Illinois State Employees, which represents about 260 state workers covered under the deal, recently worked out a sensible agreement along these lines.

But to say the mayor’s coronavirus vaccine mandate is an “infringement” on “constitutional rights,” as six aldermen allied with the FOP wrote in a letter to the mayor this week, is ludicrous. It is no more an infringement on liberty than requiring children to get vaccinated for polio or requiring grownups to wear clothes in public.

The FOP and the six aldermen — Derrick Curtis (18th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Felix Cardona (31st), Nick Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Jim Gardiner (45th) — should quit acting like yahoos and get on board with ending this pandemic.

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