Federal and local authorities are looking into the off-duty employment of several Austin police officers who were paid cash by a wealthy Mexican man to watch over his daughter while she attends college, the American-Statesman has learned.
Two officers have left the Austin Police Department in the past month since the inquiry started, and others who may have also worked on the private security assignment have been questioned.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo confirmed Wednesday that the department recently learned of allegations concerning one officer and "immediately launched criminal and administrative investigations." He declined to describe the nature of the allegations or disclose who alerted the department, citing the ongoing inquiry.
Acevedo also would not say how many officers have since been investigated or questioned.We won't know more about this case until the department releases more detail, but over the years Grits has observed that, when police corruption arises, there is sometimes a nexus of money changing hands surrounding either approved, off-duty employment or separate small businesses owned and operated by officers, who as a group are a remarkably entrepreneurial bunch. You'd be surprised how many veteran police officers have one or more small business registered in their names in addition to their day jobs, including a disproportionate share of officers with significant disciplinary records..
"Anytime we investigate incidents, you are much better off as an organization to start with a very broad view to ensure that we don't miss anything," Acevedo said.
Sgt. Wayne Vincent, president of the Austin police union, said "less than 10" officers had their duties restricted in recent weeks after the department initially learned about outside employment concerns.
At one point a few years back while I was unemployed for quite a few months on end, your correspondent seriously considered taking up a major research project aimed at exactly these sorts of off-duty employment issues at Austin PD. The idea was to get all the approval forms for off-duty employment under open records for some period of time, say a year, and to simultaneously take the complete list of Austin police officers and run their names at area courthouses and the Secretary of State to identify all sole proprietorships, business partnerships or Texas corporations registered under their names.
Once you've created a database of businesses owned by officers and those which employ off-duty cops, the larger task becomes systematically vetting the businesses to look for discrepancies, improprieties, litigation, government contracts, shady associations, etc.. It would be a monstrously large undertaking for a force the size of Austin PD - almost worthy of a book-length project - and in the end I decided Grits didn't have the resources to take it on as a one-man show, choosing to focus on other, more attainable priorities.
But I've always thought that the extracurricular moneymaking activities of law enforcement deserve more focused attention because often, when you look closely, as in this case, it can become a point of vulnerability for the department in many, perhaps too many, respects.