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How Police Departments Handle The Problem Of Drunk Driving Cops

Drunk driving cops have become a major problem in Salt Lake City. An extreme example of such an incident was the case of Linden Police officer Pedro Abad who has been arrested for drunk driving twice, once when he was involved in a fatal wrong-way crash last month.

Police reports state that police officers from Salt Lake City carry more than just their identification when they go to a social event; the business card of Police Chief Chris Burbank. The card lists phone numbers of taxi companies so officers who have been drinking are encouraged to call a cab. He then picks up the tab and the tip; the program has not cost him a lot, just “a handful of rides a month,” he said. This is an example of what police is doing across the country to stem the toll of law enforcement personnel who drink and drive, leading to tragic results.

In the wrong-way crash that took place on 20 March on the West Shore Expressway in Staten Island and took the lives of 2 people, Abad, who was driving the car, was not charged. Abad and another officer were injured in the crash and hospitalized whereas fellow officer Frank Viggiano and Linden resident Joseph Rodriguez both died in the crash. The crash happened when the vehicle struck a tractor-trailer truck while travelling north in the southbound lanes.

A survey taken on police drunk-driving incidents shows a patchwork effort to tackle the problem. Some departments are lenient in their approach whereas others are more firm and offer no room for a second chance. However, the exact extent of the problem is not known as the state and federal agencies do not track drunk driving incidents in which police officers are involved.

According to an article published in the Police Executive Research Forum in 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department, along with some other departments, have told officers convicted of drunk driving to sign a contract promising to stay sober and seek professional help if they want to keep their job. In other states such as in Tampa, Florida, police have no resource after a zero-tolerance policy for officers arrested on drunk driving charges; the rule was imposed in 2009 and luckily no one violated the policy until last year when Officer Anton Lipski was charged.

The program in Salt Lake City is a free-ride program which just raises awareness about drinking and driving and gives officers an easy way out of trouble. Ever since the program was started five years ago, no officer from Salt Lake City has been arrested and charged for drunk driving.

According to a research carried out by Dr. Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University professor of criminal justice and a former police officer, there is a small set of police who continue to pose danger on the road. These officers continue to drive even after they have been caught driving under the influence.

Stinson led a nationwide study from 2005-2010 in which he found 14 cases of police officers who have been arrested and charged with drunk driving at least twice. During the same time period, researchers tracked a total of 782 police officer arrests for drunk driving, so repeat offenders contributed to a fraction of the incidents, including 191 injuries, 91 cases of officers fleeing the scene, 27 murder or manslaughter charges and 26 cases when officers flipped their vehicles.

Stinson wanted to research police officers involved in drunk-driving incidents but he could not find any reliable evidence in those cases. As a result, he began cataloging police arrests, starting in 2005, in which he compiled new accounts based on internet searches. The data was compiled through 2010 by his team and new accounts are verified by the police.

A paper published in 2013 with data of drunk driving police officers shows that the “problem is based on the police subculture and the sense of power and entitlement that some police officers have,” according to Stinson. Charges are not filed against these officers because of “professional courtesy.”

However, according to Dr. Maria Haberfeld, this all depends on police integrity. Haberfeld, who is a professor of Police Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says “it depends on the police department,” but most of the time, professional courtesy will be the preferred response” by police which cannot be offered all the time.

Another case is of Pa. Police Officer Richard Hoffman who was off-duty when he was involved in a drunk driving accident. He had to be pulled from the wreckage and his blood alcohol levels came out to be twice the legal limit. Hoffman also had other alcohol-related complaints, when he shoved and verbally abused a Philadelphia police officer in 2005. He was fired from duty but an arbitrator ruled earlier this year that he should have been suspended instead of being fired.

Although the problem of police officers driving drunk is a serious issue, it appears that police are drinking less, according to Tom Aveni, executive director of the Police Policy Studies Council. Aveni is also a retired police officer in New Hampshire. He says that officers are more health conscious as compared to the common man, which is why they avoid driving drunk. They are also concerned about accountability, which is why police departments are more professional these days as compared to 30 or 40 years ago.

According to Stinson, his research is unclear about the role of police unions in police-related drunk driving incidents. In some jurisdictions which operate without police unions, departments usually fire any wrongdoers but then drop the charges at a later stage and reinstate the wrongdoer. Police also get lenient treatment in court as they are often there professionally and deal with the court day in and day out.

Recently, a number of drunk driving cases involving law enforcement personnel have been reported in Vermont, Texas and Philadelphia, Massachusetts etc.

There is however conflicting evidence about whether police drink more than the general public. A study carried out to check this stated that this is actually an “urban myth” and nothing substantial could be found.

Another study published in 2012 in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that although law enforcement personnel did not abuse alcohol, they are more likely to binge drink. Since police work is quite stressful, they should have resources to cope with them in a healthy manner.

Stinson said that the drunk driving issue among cops is not being dealt seriously. Apart from collecting data on police drunk driving problem, he is now focusing his attention on police shootings.

News Source: www.NJ.com

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