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Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Payment of Police at Worksites Questioned

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By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – It’s typical to see a police car parked near a construction site. If construction has the potential to impede the flow of traffic or create a potentially unsafe environment, companies frequently turn to local police, requesting off-duty officers at the site. 
The police officers’ presence is often needed, so drivers heed temporary signs asking them to slow down or take precautions.
Herald readers raised questions about such off-duty police assignments on parts of Stone Harbor Boulevard. This stretch of road is under the jurisdiction of Middle Township Police Department.
How it Works
No police officer can directly enterintoa contract for off-duty employment at locations like construction sites. Entities requesting a police presence must enterintoa contract with the police department. 
Fees are paid to the department and not directly to the officer. Fees for the entity requesting service are set by the municipality. The current rate is $94.28 per hour.
Middle Township contracted with a private company, Off-Duty Police Management, for management of the administrative tasks that include client interaction, scheduling and billing. The company is paid with a 7.75% share of the fees charged. The company also accepts the risk of non-payment by the contracting entity.  
The municipality receives a portion of the remaining fees as compensation for the use of police vehicles and other equipment, as well as administrative costs. The rest is paid to the officer, which is not counted in the pension system.
Officers remain under the control of the department and must adhere to department policies. The municipal contract with Off-Duty Police Management allows the police department to be free of the many administrative tasks required by the requests for off-duty police services.  
When Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner presented his proposal to use a private firm for some of the tasks associated with the management of off-duty police services, he emphasized that “all we are doing here is contracting out the narrow administrative function.” 
He added that administering the off-duty police requests is not a good use of a command officer’s time.
Motorists who wonder why the officer is sitting in a cruiser rather than directing traffic in a work zone do not properly understand the officer’s responsibility.
Leusner explained that the officer at a worksite is not there to direct traffic. The officer’s job is to ensure the safety of traffic flow at the site. The officer may elect to direct traffic if the circumstances dictate that doing so is the best way to ensure the safety of traffic flow.
Safety is the Issue
Even with the presence of special signage, orange cones, and even workers attempting to direct traffic, statistics show a disconcerting number of circumstances when motorists crash through work areas, sometimes injuring themselves or even killing workers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2011 to 2015, 14 individuals were killed from injuries suffered at road work zones accidents in New Jersey. During that same period in Pennsylvania, there were 38 such fatalities.
Ensuring safety is the reason companies turn to police officers who have the power to cite motorists failing to comply with speed reductions or observe detours. Safety is the issue, and how an officer acts to maximize safe traffic flow is determined by the circumstances of the work area.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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