The topic of police accountability has loomed especially large in nationwide social justice conversations since last summer’s protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd while in police custody. One of the aims of Off Duty Blue—a Raleigh-based SaaS startup currently participating in the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP)—is to improve the accountability of police departments via a scheduling platform that keeps track of which officers are signed up for “off duty” work.
An officer’s shift is considered “off duty” whenever they are hired by a third party instead of the actual police department, i.e. by bus companies or by venues for special events like baseball games, said Off Duty Blue CEO Jim Raschella. Yet because the officers are still wearing their official uniform, their actions—for better or worse—still reflect on their department.
Raschella said the current methods many police departments across the country employ for scheduling these shifts, such as signing up on a bulletin board, are antiquated and sometimes lead to timesheet fraud or heads of department not knowing where everyone is. On the other hand, on-duty scheduling already utilizes automated software, Raschella said.
“This whole process being kind of back-of-the-envelope just creates a lot of undue risk for the police departments,” Raschella said, “and more importantly, offers no real accountability.”
Handling payments for officers after their off-duty shift is just as out-dated and can lack oversight; Raschella said it’s not uncommon for officers to be paid with cash or given individual checks by third-party vendors.
Off Duty Blue’s cloud-based platform not only streamlines the off-duty and special-event scheduling process, but departments can also subscribe to speed up officer payments through digitized transactions on a payment platform. Departments can also use the platform for overtime scheduling, like when an officer calls in sick and needs a back-up.
By organizing all of a department’s details onto a single app that is accessible with an internet connection, Raschella said it improves department accountability whether officers are on or off duty.
Prior to using Off Duty Blue’s software, the Rutherford County (N.C.) Sheriff’s office had at least one instance where officers had to wait three months to be paid for details they had worked. At the end of the year, all of the digital payments and full-year earnings are compiled into an easy-to-manage report that can help simplify taxes for the officers and give administrators the peace of mind that their earnings are reported properly to the government.
Roots in upstate New York
The cloud-based platform was “designed by first responders, for first responders,” Raschella said. Mark Grady, Deputy Sheriff for the Onondaga County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office, co-founded the business with Raschella. The two met while serving as Marines.
When he moved to Raleigh in 2016, Raschella became involved in Bunker Labs, a nationwide nonprofit organization with branches across the country that provides resources and support to military-veteran entrepreneurs and small business owners. Raschella currently serves as city ambassador for the Raleigh-Durham Bunker Labs branch.
Besides the support he receives through Bunker Labs, Raschella said the RIoT accelerator program has been beneficial for growing Off Duty Blue as a first-time entrepreneur.
Officially incorporated in 2014, Off Duty Blue released its first MVP in 2017 as a freemium model to three police departments. After receiving customer feedback, Off Duty Blue released a product with more advanced features in 2018, and the company currently has 25 departments across the country using the software. Off Duty Blue was originally headquartered in Syracuse, N.Y., and the Syracuse Police Department is still its biggest customer.
Besides family-and-friends funding, Off Duty Blue received a $50K convertible note from Launch New York that is set to mature in the fall. Raschella said they will likely start a seed funding round in the fall.
Raschella said that while improving accountability when officers are off-duty may seem like a secondary priority compared to the more forefront concern of on-duty accountability (which tends to be more high-risk, he said), it is important to ensure accountability whenever an officer is in uniform.
“We’re all working towards a larger goal of complete police accountability, and making police departments more efficient and transparent, and ideally just run better with today’s technology,” Raschella said. “If we’re really going to be serious as an industry of police work about accountability, we need to be accountable both on and off duty.”