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Aug 29, 2017 4:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

In Villages And Towns, Side Jobs Are Common For Police And Officials--As Are Concerns About Conflicts

Southampton Village Police Captain Thomas Cummings and Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison.  PRESS FILE
Aug 29, 2017 6:23 PM

A lawsuit filed last week by a former East Hampton Village police chief, targeting two village officials, offered a peek at the potential conflicts that can arise from a situation that exists in virtually every town and village on the South Fork.

A fiscal windfall is available, on a part-time basis, to police officers and other local officials who are interested in a side job, or even a side business, in security. Seasonal homes and an abundance of events, both public and private, in the summer provide ample opportunity to keep the peace at parties, or to keep an eye on houses that are temporarily vacant.

It’s an often lucrative supplement for many municipal officials and employees—but, as former East Hampton Town Police Chief Jerry Larsen’s lawsuit shows, it can come with conflicts of all sorts.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell—a former East Hampton Village administrator—noted that villages and towns try to limit conflicts by establishing codes of ethics. Mr. Larsen’s lawsuit alleges that the village code was unfairly administered to the detriment of his company, and to the benefit of similar companies affiliated with Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and Village Trustee Richard Lawler.

Mr. Cantwell also said collective bargaining agreements with police officers can be used to address the potential conflicts.

“I think ethics, on the part of government officials and employees, has to be at a very high standard,” he said. “Otherwise, the system breaks down.”

Mr. Cantwell noted that the municipality’s code of ethics requires all town employees to be transparent when conducting business with the town for a private company, such as obtaining mass gathering permits for a client. He noted that many municipal employees work more than one job, just like other residents, and that he believes the town shouldn’t restrict a person who’s trying to make ends meet.

But he was quick to clarify that the situation posed by the lawsuit involving some of his former East Hampton Village colleagues demonstrates a clear line between what’s appropriate for a police officer and what might be appropriate for department heads—including the chief of police.

“I think that the employees in higher authority and decision-making positions should be held to a higher standard,” he said, noting that such individuals also would not be constrained by collective bargaining agreements that could limit their private work.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo acknowledged that “a couple” of his officers own security or valet companies, and that others do off-duty work for private security firms or watch houses. The town has put in place basic requirements to keep private work and their town jobs separate and has never experienced any problematic conflicts, in his estimation.

“We have had officers involved in private security and parking, but with formal notifications made to the department and town, we have been able to avoid conflicts of interest and maintain transparency,” he said.

Mark Epley, who was mayor of Southampton Village for 12 years until his retirement this June, noted that the issue is not a new one: Police officers working in their off hours as security—and sometimes running their own firms on the side—is a “practice that’s gone on out on the East End for decades.”

He noted that his former police chief, Bill Wilson, had a private security company when he was working for the department as an officer, having been hired in 1989. When he was named chief in 2006, Mr. Epley said, Mr. Wilson had to divest himself of the company as a condition of employment.

As a result, the company went to two new owners—including Mr. Wilson’s wife.

“You have the power over the chief, as far as secondary employment, but you don’t over his family. And that’s the kind of fine line you walk sometimes,” Mr. Epley said.

He noted that, in the Southampton Village Police Department, there are various side companies set up by officers, or which employ officers, that have existed for years, and even decades—he labeled some as “multi-generational.”

Most notable, perhaps, is the firm operated by Southampton Village Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison. In 2011, the New York Post wrote a story labeling him “Southampton’s Millionaire Cop,” saying his private security company brought in more than $1 million in revenue every year, and had included security for Ira Rennert’s Sagaponack estate. He also has a valet parking business, HL Parking and Services, that operates at numerous summer galas and fundraisers.

Mr. Epley noted that by “informal agreement,” Mr. Lamison’s company—which, he noted, has been operating for more than 20 years, well beyond the mayor’s arrival in office—had resisted taking jobs within the village.

The department’s policy is similar to other municipalities on the South Fork. It allows secondary employment but emphasizes the “primary duty, obligation and responsibility” to the village. It requires approval from the chief of police and sets other restrictions.

Southampton Village Police Chief Thomas Cummings noted that the policy dates to 2010. Prior to that, the village required extensive documentation before granting permission for officers to take on private side jobs. But when The Press submitted a Freedom of Information Law request seeking information about those businesses, the chief said, a more generic set of requirements was established “to protect the cops’ privacy.”

“There’s only, really, a couple of guys who do security,” he said, noting that his department also has two officers who work as lawyers, and another who is a locksmith.

Det. Sgt. Lamison—who did not answer a request for comment—“tends to use his time off to deal with the business stuff he has to,” the chief said. Any other times there have been complaints about other officers, they’ve been dealt with, he added.

Mr. Epley said there was an ongoing effort to keep the side jobs from encroaching on the duties of police officers, adding, “There were times when we had to have conversations with people … I know [Chief Cummings] has had those conversations with people.”

At the same time, Mr. Epley notes the “significant demand” for security workers on the South Fork, and believes it’s reasonable for local police officers to make some extra cash when not on duty. “It can be very lucrative,” he said. “Somebody is going to make that money. Would I like it to be made by a local person, so those dollars stay in our community, our economy? I love to see that.”

But he also acknowledged the potential for conflicts of interest.

“Part of the attraction to some of the homeowners is, hey, a local police officer will watch your home? Maybe that’ll give you better attention.” He noted that private homeowners frequently would call him, as mayor, and ask for names of private security companies: “I never made any kind of referrals for them, because the potential for conflict is there.”

Mr. Epley said when conflicts did arise, the officers were told they had to choose between their day and side jobs. Nobody, he said, ever chose to leave the force to work exclusively in security. But that’s partly because the part-time attention paid to a security company can stoke the fire for retirement, when an officer can step out of the municipal job with a full pension and into a fully functioning security firm, with a client list already solidly in place. It is, Mr. Epley said, a “natural progression.”

“Like anybody else when you’re starting out, you climb the salary ladder. As a young police officer hired back in 1988, I worked two jobs most of my life, raising a family,” said Detective Kevin Gwinn, president of the Southampton Town Patrolman’s Benevolent Association for the last six years, and a member of the town’s department since his hire.

There are limitations, he noted, including a state law that bans officers from working in any capacity in an establishment that sells liquor. The Town Police policy also mandates that any officer providing security on the side must be working for a licensed company. There are limits on the number of hours as well, typically 20 per week, which is a state law.

The part-time jobs, he said, are “not as lucrative as you think, for the worker—it really isn’t. Maybe for the owners, but not the workers.” He added, “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s extra money.”

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said his officers must get permission from him before taking on outside employment. “As long as there’s no conflict of interest, we’ll generally grant that,” he said. Only a small number of his officers have done so, he added.

He said if an employee were suspected of doing private work while on the clock for the town, it would bring “immediate disciplinary action,” and even “potential criminality,” via a charge of theft of services. The chief said he’s had no such cases in his brief tenure, but also knows of no cases in recent years before his arrival.

But the issue of conflicts is a legitimate concern, Chief Skrynecki said, and police with private jobs must guard against any suggestion of preferential treatment when they’re in uniform—real or perceived: “Certainly, we want to deal with the public in a fair and equal way. Everyone we serve deserves the same police response.”

Maria Moore, mayor of Westhampton Beach Village, noted that the current contract between the village and her department’s union also requires that the police chief be notified of outside employment and limits it to “a reasonable number of hours,” especially when it comes before an officer is slated to be on duty. Otherwise, the contract doesn’t differentiate between various types of outside employment.

She added, “It is my understanding that none of our officers own their own security firms or are employed as private security guards.”

Chief Cummings, in Southampton Village, notes that side jobs are much more regulated than when he entered law enforcement 31 years ago. Back then, he said, nobody was even concerned about licensing.

He recalled: “There’d be a note card on the bulletin board, where we have coffee, ‘Hey, I need four guys for a party on Saturday night.’”

Editors Frank Costanza, Virginia Garrison and Bill Sutton, and staff writer Michael Wright contributed reporting to this story.

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The fact that there are so many public officials and law enforcement who do side work proves their jobs are not demanding. It certainly can't be because they don't make enough money. There is also patronage at work here. It stinks.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 17 6:49 PM
2 members liked this comment
Salary packages are quite generous.

What is the motivation for "side business"?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 29, 17 8:46 PM
2 members liked this comment
The same motivation that gets us up and out to work every day JuneZ, to provide a better life for your family, the desire to improve ones' financial situation , it's called a strong work ethic, why even ask the question?!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Aug 30, 17 6:22 AM
oh, they just enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing you've parked a Ferrari in a safe spot and saved a party-goer a long walk.

You know, how you enjoy the cool breeze from the back of the truck while holding those greasy bars.
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Aug 30, 17 6:44 AM
If you've ever worked for one of these companies, owned or staffed by law enforcement, it's very easy to see where laws get skirted.

For example: A company run by SH or EH town cops is valeting or providing security for a private party. The party runs late or is too loud or has parking that becomes out of control. Neighbors call the police. The police come and instead of enforcing laws/ordinances instead they chat with those that they know or recognize the business running things ...more
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Aug 29, 17 9:04 PM
3 members liked this comment
The bottom line is the wealthy sectors are buying protection for their parties. Sounds a little like the mafia? There is a fine line between the two. A lot of off duty guys want no part of this side business, guests snorting coke, blasting music, driving off intoxicated etc. That's the way it's always been.
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Aug 30, 17 11:03 AM
Anyone can have a side hustle from their 9-5. Stop it.
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Aug 30, 17 6:35 AM
Agreed! If a cop wants to Uber in his off-time so be it. The conflict is if they are tending to their "side business" during their shift. Are they on-the-clock and receiving pay from the Village/Town while stopping off to check on a party, or pick up golf carts, or pay insurance bills etc?
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Sep 1, 17 11:37 AM
Just more thinly veiled anti capitalism tripe from one of our resident left wing nutters.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Aug 30, 17 7:06 AM
2 members liked this comment
This isnt just about the police but the elected officials as well. Cantwell's optics are totally distorted because he has worked inside this bubble all his career. He worked for Rickenbach for 20 plus years - at the same time Rickenbach moonlighted in security, property protection, pool maintenance, etc.And Rickenbach's 20 plus years before politics had him working for the EH Village Police Department. Elected Officials cannot afford to have their decisions questioned even for what appears to ...more
By pluff (60), East Hampton on Aug 30, 17 8:17 AM
East Hampton town PD is a little rinky dink operation .....Larsen wears 4 stars like he is General Patton! He was in charge of 20 guys, the equivalent of what a Suffolk County Sergeant is in charge of! Ridiculous!!!!
By mtkfishman (76), montauk on Aug 30, 17 1:29 PM
I hope that the police could at least stop using there cell phones all the time if it just a part time business.
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Aug 31, 17 3:38 PM
Side hustles shouldn't interfere w their overtime
By dave h (193), calverton on Aug 31, 17 7:07 PM