COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board voted unanimously to endorse Columbia Police Department Policy 1040, specifically Section 3.1 (c), requiring that any officer hired for off-duty employment shall wear the department uniform or identification.
Two female members of 40 Days for Life, an anti-abortion campaign group founded in Bryan-College Station, Texas, appealed to the board to review the police department's policy on outside employment after they were given a warning for handing out literature too close to the entrance of Planned Parenthood at 711 Providence Road.
Presently, department policy allows for law enforcement officers to work as many as 20 hours per week during off-duty hours for private businesses that require additional security during special events or late night hours operation. The policy requires all officers to wear their police uniform while working security jobs but prohibits the use of additional department resources or interruption of the officer's time for on-duty responsibilities.
Any party wishing to have a police officer's additional security force on must file an application yearly with detailed requests of the duties to be performed and times needed. These applications are all reviewed by Chief Ken Burton, who ultimately has discretion on whether or not the officer will wear his or her uniform during off-duty employment, Sgt. Jill Schlude told the board at its last meeting on March 14.
The current policy also dictates that off-duty officers are not to be employed by any establishment that serves alcohol.
Board member Stephen Alexander said he felt the police officers have uniforms specifically to have the additional authority invested in them, and that is why businesses hire them.
"A lot of businesses are going to suffer if you don't offer this service," Alexander said. "This policy seems pretty sound to me."
Diane Booth, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri from September 1986 to May 1994, presented the board with evidence that led to the clinic hiring a Columbia off-duty police officer to safeguard the property since 1990. According to Booth, on Aug.t 29, 1990, about 44 anti-abortion protesters illegally forced their way into the clinic and then held the patients and staff in a locked room inside.
*Joanne Schrader, of Fulton, who filed the appeal, said she believes the officers do not hold the protection of Planned Parenthood's customers and the First Amendment rights of the protesters in equal regard.
Schrader's attorney Daniel Baker, of Cox and Associates, LLC, said the uniform of a Columbia Police Department officer represents the City of Columbia and the city's support of one side of a hotly-debated issue across the nation. Baker cited the department's policy of discretion against alcohol-serving businesses as a "shade of gray" that should allow for the department to prohibit off-duty police officers from working for businesses that provide controversial health care services.
Board member Mitch Richards contested the "shade of gray," comparing the use of off-duty security at Planned Parenthood to off-duty security at Gerbes, for example, which sells genetically-modified food, a good that people could protest, in theory. To protesters of genetically-modified food, Gerbes then becomes a "purveyor of horrible products."
Richards used the Gerbes example to explain that the off-duty security wearing city uniforms doesn't mean the city favors certain businesses but that it acts within the boundaries of current federal law. In the case of Planned Parenthood, the law referenced is the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
The example also indicates that the availability of off-duty police officers is not limited to hotly-debated facilities. Any group that follows the appropriate procedures can also receive protection for its event.