Pittsburgh police refusing to work security at Beyonce' concert over anti-police message

This would likely be an easier column to write if I were more familiar with the life and work of Beyonce’, but even I know that she’s a very popular singer with significant music sales and well attended concerts. In terms of the latter revenue stream, events of that magnitude always require security staff on hand to keep the rowdy fans under control and that’s a thriving business in America. What’s less often discussed is the fact that off duty police officers frequently take such jobs and do their moonlighting work with the full blessing of their bosses. It’s not only allowed, but in some cases encouraged… or even mandatory.

In the case of one upcoming Beyonce’ concert however, they may be short on cops because the local Pittsburgh police don’t want to be involved with her event. (Liberty Unyielding)

City police officers who believe Beyoncé is anti-police are planning to boycott the singer’s May 31 concert at Heinz Field, and the union said it will file a labor complaint if the city forces them to work the secondary employment.

FOP President Robert Swartzwelder said Friday that he is not taking a position on Beyoncé, and the union is not calling for a boycott; rather, officers are posting on the FOP website saying that no one should work the show.

You can almost smell the conflict of interest at the bottom of this before we even begin, but there are plenty of questions which this story brings to mind. The initial conflict is easy to understand because the cops have been rather put off by the singer since the release of her song “Formation” and her subsequent performance at the Super Bowl, which many interpreted as being anti-cop. This has led to protests of her events by law enforcement officers at multiple locations, including Houston.

But the real questions here have more to do with the practice of having cops working in uniform as private security and whether or not that can be considered part of their job. In the current case, it sounds as if the police are actually being told that they should work the concert by the department. But if this is their off duty time and they would be paid by a private security firm, what business is that of the local police department? I would hope that we’re not at the point where officers can be punished for refusing to moonlight on their own time.

Even if they want the job, however, is it truly kosher to have police officers working as private security while wearing their uniforms? I read an interesting article on the subject in the LA Times a while back which I dug up again this morning. They note some of the jarring disconnects involved when citizens going to a show run into cops who may or may not actually be working in their law enforcement capacity at a public event.

Should police officers on the public payroll also work for private companies while in uniform? It’s clear why private companies are eager to hire them. A police uniform is a symbol of government authority and carries with it the potential to employ legally authorized, even deadly, force.

During the civil lawsuit filed after the brutal beating of Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot in 2011, the team’s head of security, Shahram Ariane, explained why the Dodgers hired uniformed off-duty LAPD officers, who are more expensive than security guards, or even off-duty police in polo shirts: “People behave differently when dealing with a uniformed police officer — albeit off-duty but unbeknownst to them.”

I’ll be the first to tell you that cops frequently aren’t paid enough for the vital service they perform and the dangers they face. If they want to put their expertise to use for an outside gig and can make some good money doing it, that’s great. But shouldn’t they be taking off their official uniforms and donning the garb of the private security company hiring them? After all, the powers of a private guard are considerably less than those of state sanctioned law enforcement and people have a right to know the difference. Cops on the job also get a lot more latitude in court if problems arise from their service and that benefit of the doubt shouldn’t accrue to them when they’re working off the clock.

This is problematic all the way around. I’m sure Beyonce can afford to hire all the security she needs from private sources. And if there are cops who want to do the job (though preferably out of uniform) then God bless ’em. But if the police are being forced to take on this work and do so looking as if they’re doing it in their official capacity, that’s a problem on two fronts.


Jazz Shaw May 16, 2022 12:41 PM ET