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Rent a Cop: The Big, Shady (But Legal) Business of Secondary Policing


It's been over a month since 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers, Jr. was killed by a St. Louis police officer. Details offered of the moments that led up to his death are today still sparse and sometimes conflicting. An investigation is underway, but there are already a few aspects of the incident that should raise questions.

First, Myers was shot eight times, six of which were from behind. Second, the person who shot Myers was an off-duty cop working security for a private company. That the officer who killed Myers was off duty isn't immediately as troubling as the fact that the 18-year-old was shot six times in the back. It is, though, just as curious and essential to understanding what might happen next in the case.

The term "secondary police officer" peppered headlines with ease as news of Myers' killing broke. The shadowy practice it describes, however, is fairly obscure.

In essence, secondary policing is the practice by which municipalities allow their active officers to moonlight as private security during off hours. Officers are generally allowed to wear their official uniforms, carry the weapons issued to them by their municipalities and maintain all the powers of an active, on-duty police officer. They can search, seize, arrest and use deadly force, but they execute those powers partly under the direction of a private entity. It's renting a cop—literally. And for renting out officers, many police departments earn considerable commissions.