Sweetwater commissioners have rejected an ordinance that would have placed new limits on city cops who want to work off-duty security details outside the city limits.
At Monday’s commission meeting, the council rejected the ordinance by a 4-3 vote.
Lt. Jaime Richter confronted the commission before the vote.
“You are punishing me,” he told the commission. “You are restricting my family by telling me I can’t work. I work hard for this city.”
Commissioner Orlando Lopez, who has made it public that he will run for the mayor’s seat next year, proposed the ordinance. Commissioners Jose Guerra, Lopez and former city cop Catalino Rodriguez voted in favor of the ordinance.
“In the past, there have been police officers working at banquet halls that the city had no idea. The city never authorized it,” Lopez said. “You had cops working at a club on Kendall drive. We shouldn’t be working anywhere where they sell alcohol inside the establishment. I’ve always been against it.”
The ordinance however did allow officers to work road construction, sporting events and multi-agency task forces. But Lopez said he wanted to control the off-duty work for officers.
He also said that some individuals in the police department would take advantage by taking a sick day from their schedule to work off-duty.
“There have been at times where cops who are your captains and ranks above would take a Thursday off or use their sick days to circumvent the system and work off duty and bump off the junior police officer,” he said.
This is how pay works: a business or organization requests the officers; the requester pays the city a charge and then the city pays the officer. Assignments are available to officers based on seniority.
Police Chief Jesús Menocal, who said at the meeting he doesn’t allow officers to work in venues like nightclubs or areas where alcohol is sold, authorizes all off-duty assignments.
The department employs about 111 police officers. Police Capt. Jorge Fernandez de Lara said he felt disrespected by the thought of the ordinance being approved.
“What’s mind-boggling to me is that it was never a problem in the past,” he said. “For the many years the police did this in the past, and he [Lopez] was on the commission. There was never an issue. Now, it’s an issue.”
Lopez also presented another ordinance that would limit off-duty employment to officers holding the rank of sergeant or below, but it wasn’t approved either.