While working for the LAPD, veteran detective Mark J. Arneson found a way to turn his police expertise into profits: He became a private eye.
Arneson allegedly went too far — he was indicted this month with private investigator Anthony Pellicano on charges of illegally pulling private data from police computers. Pellicano allegedly paid Arneson $189,000 for his services.
Arneson was suspended in 2003 and has left the department. But other officers do outside investigative work.
Among large departments in the nation, Los Angeles is rare in allowing officers to moonlight without restriction as private detectives — a dangerous practice, say both police experts and officials in other cities.
"I strongly disapprove of the idea. It is an enormous potential conflict of interest," said Joseph McNamara, a former San Jose police chief who is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
When police serve both the public and paying clients, the integrity of their work can be compromised, McNamara said.
"Let's say you're a straightarrow detective, and a partner asks a question about a case," he said. "You just answer, assuming he's asking because he's a police investigator. In fact, he may be asking the question because a private client wants to know."
Dorothy M. Schulz, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that "there would be too many opportunities as a private detective where the type of information available to a police officer would be useful to you."
"One would have to be a very strong individual not to take advantage of wearing two hats," she said.
Rather than count on the moral fortitude of their employees, most large departments remove the temptation altogether.
Boston, for instance, has a specific rule prohibiting police from being private detectives as well as performing investigative work for insurance companies, collection or credit agencies, lawyers and bail bond agents.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also prohibits outside investigative work.
"We don't allow it; it's a conflict," said spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Other departments place restrictions on such outside activity. New York does not allow officers to work as private investigators on criminal matters but permits them to perform civil investigations.
Chicago bars command-level staff from private detective work but allows those below that rank to work as investigators.
The LAPD has no such restrictions. And the department does not track how many officers are private detectives. Its work permit rules, however, dictate that officers not engage in investigations "in conflict with this department or the city of Los Angeles."
Police Chief William J. Bratton declined to comment for this article.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Berkow said California labor laws make it difficult for employers to restrict outside employment.
"There is a general atmosphere in California that gives deference to an employee's lawful conduct over an employer's ability to regulate that conduct," he said.
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates nevertheless called it "unbelievable" that LAPD officers are working as private investigators.
"It is a conflict. For anybody who has access to police files, the temptation is too great" to abuse that access, he said. "You're a private investigator one minute, the next minute you're an officer or detective. It just doesn't work."
Although there was no written rule prohibiting outside investigative work while he was chief, Gates said he did not allow such jobs.
"Certainly I would never have given a work permit for that kind of thing. It is a definite conflict of interest," said Gates, who left the department in 1992.
Yet LAPD officers have apparently been working as private investigators for quite some time. Arneson, for instance, declared in a 1998 bankruptcy filing that he had been a private investigator for 22 years.
Today, LAPD officers openly market themselves as investigators. Officer Timothy Marks is a licensed private investigator whose firm, Secutors, offers such services as traffic collision probes, background checks, hate crime investigations, "paparazzi control" and video surveillance. A brochure for the business proclaims "Protection With Connections."
Marks, through a spokesman who identified himself only as Kamal, declined to comment.
Mark F. Mireles, a patrol officer, runs a Burbank private investigations firm, according to the LAPD. The firm's website, which does not identify Mireles as an LAPD officer, lists criminal investigations and missing-persons searches among the company's services. Mireles declined to comment.
Arneson is not the only LAPD officer alleged to have broken the law working as an investigator. In July 1999, the department charged Robert Pulley, a Northeast Division detective, with 36 violations of LAPD rules.
The alleged offenses included 31 charges of illegally obtaining information on individuals from LAPD computers. The other five counts alleged that Pulley used department equipment for financial gain and that he misrepresented his status as a detective to the public and the district attorney's office.
Pulley retired in August 1999. He could not be reached for comment.
Former LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, now a city councilman, thinks a ban on private investigators is unnecessary.
"Certainly when you're dealing with private investigators, it creates some sensitivity. With private investigator or security jobs there is a different dynamic than being a pool cleaner," Parks said.
But he added that when he was chief, "we found officers violating confidentiality; some were private investigators, some were not. The issue is not whether someone is a private investigator; it is whether the person is honest or dishonest."
McNamara said politics, not sound policy, keep departments from banning private investigative work.
"I do not think there is a chief in the country who likes the idea," he said. "Privately, a lot of police chiefs might be uneasy. But speaking out can be difficult — to go up against your union and also against your bosses, who are the elected officials, who themselves don't want to make waves."
Jude Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the union has no position on the matter.
Times staff writer Scott Glover contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times