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The Fight Against Crime: Notes From The Front : Moonlighting Officers Make Extra Sacrifice

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officer Karla Tyson does it because her salary and chances for overtime are slim. Sgt. Dennis Zine has child support payments that strain his paycheck.

Both officers, like thousands of others throughout Los Angeles, moonlight in other security-related jobs in their free time.

Some do it to get away from their daily grind. But the overall reason is, yeah, you guessed it: Money.

“I don’t do it by choice,” says Tyson, an assistant vice officer coordinator at the Valley Bureau. “I do it to make ends meet.”

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Tyson, who has a 15-year-old daughter enrolled in a private school, works as a security guard three or four times a month at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum athletic events. (With the Raiders gone, she’s not making as much.)

When she takes on additional jobs, like bodyguard or security for a department store, Tyson said she can haul in an extra $600 to $800 a month.

While the average patrol officer starts off making $35,000 or more per year, many in the department supplement that income with jobs ranging from bodyguard to watching cars at parking facilities or, like Tyson, guarding cash registers at crowded department stores during the holiday season.

Despite 17 years as a cop, and two outside jobs, Zine stills drives a car with more than 100,000 miles on it and struggles to balance his bills, he said.

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“What you find is that on a police officer’s salary, there is no way you can live properly,” said Zine, who works with Tyson as a Coliseum guard.

To obtain a permit for outside work, officers must receive permission from their commanding officer and clear both the site and details of the job.

Marisa Stresak, a civilian employee who oversees issuance of the permits, said the department is careful not to authorize officers in some cases, such as if there is a police investigation going on at the site or if there is potential for officers to get hurt.

A big drawback for moonlighters: Officers hurt working outside jobs are not covered by the department’s medical insurance. Another drawback is that there is no compensation made to families of officers who are killed while working privately, even though they retain their powers of arrest in off-duty jobs.

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In addition, officers can work no more than 20 hours a week, and the outside work cannot interfere with their police duties.

Although most officers usually do for other employers what they do for the department--protect people or property--many of them have expanded their expertise.

“Not all police officers just work security-related jobs when they are off duty,” Stresak said. “There are requests from lots of divisions where people want to teach self-defense classes or criminal-justice classes.”

Zine, 48, occasionally teaches criminal justice at Valley College in Van Nuys.

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According to Stresak, nearly half of all moonlighting officers are women, who make up 17% of the force.

Although she says the LAPD does not keep an exact count of how many officers hold other jobs, the total is estimated to be in the thousands.

Both Tyson and Zine say their duties as police officers already affect the time spent with their children. With the burden of extra jobs, that load can only increase.

“This job alone takes away from my family,” Tyson said about being a police officer. “These extra jobs take even more.”

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