Perkins Township officials say they're examining a long-standing policy that lets police officers use township cruisers for private-security assignments.
The officers are paid entirely by private dollars in such cases, but the township recoups none of the cost for use of the cruiser, no matter if it's parked or running.
Triggering the issue is a Perkins Township police officer who has been stationed for about the past week in an East Perkins Avenue shopping center.
Pat Catan's, a craft store in the shopping center, is paying the officer $30 an hour to provide security at the store from 1-9 p.m. for a 12-day period, Perkins police Lt. Al Matthews said.
Matthews declined to say why the security was requested, but a Pat Catan's employee said a man who had caused problems at another Pat Catan's store in the area had entered the East Perkins Avenue store recently and acted suspiciously. A Perkins Township police report from March 25 listed the suspect as a 51-year-old male and explained the man had asked about store hours and the number of employees who were working.
Following Perkins Township's protocol, the officer is paid directly by the private company -- in this case Pat Catan's -- while the police department is not compensated for use of the vehicle, Matthews said.
Some companies request the presence of a police cruiser for a security detail, while others do not, Matthews said.
Tuesday afternoon outside Pat Catan's, the officer was inside the cruiser with the motor running. Essentially, Perkins Township was footing the fuel bill for a private-duty assignment.
"The officer is not always in the car," Matthews said. "Sometimes he's inside (the store), sometimes he walks around."
Robb Parthemore, Perkins Township's acting police chief, said it's been a policy for at least the past 19 years to use police cruisers for private security details. The security assignments are posted on a bulletin board at Perkins police department, where officers bid on them.
Matthews, too, said it's been a long-standing tradition for officers to use their work equipment for private security details.
"This has been going on since cops have been in existence," Matthews said. "Back to 11 B.C., with the (praetorian) guards."
But not all public security agencies have been approaching private security the same since 11 B.C.
Sandusky Police Department, in fact, charges companies $31.25 an hour if they want a Sandusky police officer for a security detail, but the department keeps $6.25 to cover its own costs -- administrative duties and the use of a vehicle, for instance -- and then gives the rest to the officer, acting Sandusky police Chief Charlie Sams said.
No such policy exists in the collective bargaining agreement between Perkins Township and its police union. Township trustees and Parthemore touched on the issue briefly Tuesday night during a Perkins Township trustees meeting, at which trustee Bill Dwelle said he wasn't even aware officers could use the cruisers for private details.
Parthemore said a police cruiser used for a private-security detail not only provides an extra police presence in the community, it also gives private-detail officers a tool their own personal vehicles can't provide -- namely, the ability to arrest someone and detain them. He also said the officers on security detail can provide assistance faster to regular-duty officers if the need arises. When police are hired by a private company for traffic detail, however, the police charge for use of the vehicle.
Erie County Sheriff's deputies follow essentially the same policy as Perkins Township officers, according to sheriff's Capt. Paul Sigsworth. However, Sigsworth also said it's rare for deputies to work on a security assignment at a retail establishment; usually, they work security at school sporting events.
"We've had this discussion several times here," Sigsworth said. "It's not something we're not aware of. It's kind of a trade-off -- there's a relatively minimal cost involved. The vehicle is not being used, per se, to actually provide security for the detail."