Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
International Human Rights Law and Policy
c/o Los Angeles Community Policing
email to: Arthur@lacp.org
Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners
..........Rick J. Caruso, President
..........Los Angeles Police Chief
William J. Bratton
..........Los Angeles Police Protective
..........Mr. Robert Baker, President
..........Ms. Mitzi Grasso, Vice-President
of Research Project
Secondary Employment of Off-Duty Peace Officers
As Private Investigators: Nationwide Comparative
Practice and Ethical Considerations
In our continuing series of research and publication projects dealing
primarily with community policing and social aspects of law enforcement,
we are commencing work on a research and publications project that
we are convinced will be of benefit to police and laypersons alike.
The secondary employment of off-duty sworn peace officers as private
investigators, both armed and unarmed, is rapidly becoming the subject
of much public debate. Modern concepts of law enforcement frequently
tend to blur the lines between police work and active community
support. Sworn officers are asked to expand their jobs to include
community teamwork in investigating and solving crimes. They are
also preparing for sweeping changes in technique to comply with
the rapid deployment requirements of Homeland Security.
At the same time, closer familiarity between individual police officers
and neighborhood residents is changing public perceptions of the
roles and duties of police officers. If it is known locally that
a popular and highly respected officer works while off-duty for
a licensed investigator service, then the personal services -and
expectations-- of that officer may grow in demand.
On the other hand, the American public has recently become more
sensitized to the subject of professional ethics and conflicts of
interest by the deluge of cases of corporate wrongdoing, breaches
of ethics by accounting firms, and self-serving corruption on the
part of chief executive, operating and financial officers of U.S.
Police forces are not, nor should they be, exempt from public discussion
of any and all aspects of secondary employment that reasonably raise
questions of ethics, propriety, or conflicts of interest. The sole
requirement should be that the public debate on this topic should
be objective, factual, complete and impersonal. We are also aware
that it is vastly more difficult to shed light on a subject than
to shed heat.
The research will be sub-divided into three main areas:
Department Policies Compared and Contrasted;
Issues Arising from Secondary Employment;
Organizations of Police and of Private Investigators: Internal
Regulations Governing Professional Ethics and Conflicts of Interest.
1. Police Department Policies Compared and Contrasted
In the course of our research, we will solicit or invite policy
statements, as well as statistical data, from a broad selection
of police forces throughout the country. Some of them will be chosen
for their innovative or thoughtful approach to the issues involved.
Others will be approached for their unique or extensive experience
in the realm of police officers with secondary employment as private
Of the ten city and county police departments we have thus far interviewed,
eight disapprove vehemently of sworn officers "moonlighting" as
P.I.s, and specifically forbid their officers to engage in such
profitable employment. Three of them cite the inherent danger of
"appearances of impropriety" in disallowing the practice altogether.
On the other hand, we take note of the position shared by many associations
of private investigators, that private investigators can often accomplish
better results when working as P.I.s than when working as police
detectives, and that the real beneficiary of their secondary employment
is the public as a whole. We conclude from that initial response
that it will indeed be necessary to establish a broad and objective
database in our comparative approach.
Obviously, police departments vary considerably in their policy
approaches to the questions raised herein, both as to quantity of
detectives accepting secondary employment, if any, and as to the
amount of impact the off-duty work may have on police deployment,
availability, overtime, and types of crimes and torts most frequently
investigated by off-duty police officers.
We have also raised these questions with a number of leading university
criminology departments throughout the U.S. Their shared research
and parallel studies will be of enormous value to our own efforts.
We will approach police executives responsible for training and
education development of their respective departments, as well as
those persons responsible for maintaining high levels of professional
ethics among sworn officers. For that purpose, a copy of this announcement
is being sent to LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascon and we invite
his initial thoughts and suggestions.
2. Legal Issues Arising From Secondary Employment
Public concerns over secondary employment of officers as private
investigators take several forms. First, many police departments
consider the extensive and rigorous training essential to detective
work to be a public investment. Where a public employer educates
its employees in a specialized, unique and difficult profession,
it logically and legally expects concentration of efforts, full-time
devotion to the department's mission, and a strong sense of loyalty.
The taxpayers also consider their sizeable investment in training,
salary and benefits to police officers to create certain expectations
of results. Any dilution of the expected return on the investment
understandably causes frustration and resentment.
We will compare California statutes regarding licensing and conduct
of private investigators with those of other states. Initially,
it would appear that many states are more restrictive than California
in this regard. California Business and Professions Code provisions
(see, for example, § 7522, 7527.1, and 7539) focus more specifically
on licensing requirements of private investigators than on their
ethical conduct. In fact, it is left to the discretion of the licensing
board whether to include ethical questions on their examinations,
or even to give supplementary examinations containing questions
on professional ethics. No education or examination action in teaching
or testing for ethical understanding is required by the pertinent
Next, members of the public are evidently concerned with the absence
of regulation of potential leaks of privileged information gained
through the investigative efforts of off-duty police officers serving
as private investigators. There is a legitimate question of the
ethical position of a P.I. employed by a criminal or civil defense
law firm. If the investigator discovers evidence of a criminal offense,
he or she may divulge that information to a law enforcement officer
or a district attorney. On the other hand, he or she may prefer
to remain silent. If the off-duty officer discusses his or her secondary
employment with an on-duty detective, which is conceivable, then
a criminal or civil defendant's case could be severely prejudiced
without that defendant's knowledge.
In a recent line of cases, the California Supreme Court has admonished
the offices of district attorneys quite strongly for their occasional
eavesdropping on conversations between defendants and their attorneys
in criminal cases. According to the Court, that practice not only
violates attorney-client privilege: Because it leaks information
about the defense strategy to the opposing counsel, it inherently
causes prejudice. Hence, in such cases it is not necessary to prove
specific prejudice in an individual case, merely the unmistakable
eavesdropping. We will research comparative jurisprudence from a
number of state and federal appellate courts nationwide.
Similarly, it is not unrealistic to anticipate that criminal defense
law firms might join our colloquy, as several have already signaled
that off-duty police officers engaging in private detective work
inherently raises problems of "leaks" of defense strategy to the
For that reason, we will interview a number of defense attorneys
and law school professors nationwide to obtain their informed views
on this subject. We will also approach the American Civil Liberties
Union for their position.
In the course of our research project, one or more inquiries will
be directed to the California Attorney General for opinions on the
ethical implications of this type of secondary employment, and for
possible ruling on the potential of conflicts of interest.
3. Professional Organizations of
Police and of Private Investigators: Internal Regulations Governing
Professional Ethics and Conflicts of Interest.
No survey or comparative study would be complete without the complete
input of all relevant organizations or associations of participants.
Therefore, we will invite all such associations to submit their
own policies and regulatory safeguards. We will then compare them
with those of other organizations, departments and associations
We invite the Los Angeles Police Protective League to submit their
policy and practice statement regarding off-duty LAPD officers engaging
in secondary employment as private detectives, both armed and unarmed.
In a time of relatively high crime rates and in view of the present
efforts to expand and augment the numbers of available duty officers,
it may appear to many that any moonlighting is too much. It also
may reasonably appear to concerned citizens that an authorized collective
bargaining representative, such as LAPPL, should encourage more
overtime on-duty rather than more lucrative pursuits off-duty.
Finally, no law or regulation can be more effective than the will
to enforce it thoroughly and consistently. We will therefore compare
the track record of major police departments and associations of
private investigators in enforcing what should be very high and
demanding levels of professional ethics.
Since any study of this magnitude and scope necessarily requires
considerable time to complete, we will publish partial or interim
results of our research on the website www.LACP.org
on a weekly basis, and as portions of the project near completion.
We ask the public to participate in this project with both anecdotal
and statistical or legal data. The final report will credit all
those contributors and correspondents who wish their names to be
Thank you for your kind attention.
A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human
rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe.
They are consultants and authors on international policing, social
policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here
at LA Community Policing.
additional information or a complete list of references, contact: