Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guns, alcohol, and off-duty cops

There's a quiet debate taking place in the corridors of City Hall. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca wants to implement one of the nation's toughest policies barring deputies from carrying firearms when they are under the influence of alcohol. But the deputies' union adamently opposes any restrictions on a deputy's ability to carry a weapon while off-duty.

I'm not sure what's worse, the fact that a policy doesn't already exist banning off-duty cops from carrying guns while intoxicated, or the fact that some cops are actually stupid enough to bring their guns along on a night out boozing with the boys. Guns, alcohol, and unstable cops who joined the force because of a deep rooted sense of powerlessness and insecurity in their personal lives - there's a recipe for disaster.

Baca is pushing for this new policy because as he notes there has been a "very disturbing" rise in alcohol-related misconduct among his deputies. This year alone, 61 deputies have been arrested on alcohol-related charges. Of those, 39 were accused of driving under the influence, nearly twice the average of recent years. Many of those arrested were armed. Furthermore since 2004, more than a dozen sherrif's deputies have been involved in incidents in which they were accused of displaying or shooting a gun while under the influence of alcohol. Union leaders say the sheriff's plan would put deputies in danger. "What Sheriff Baca wants to do is disarm the deputy and embolden the dangerous individual", said Steve Remige, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

Like a drunk ego maniac carrying a gun isn't himself a dangerous individual? Why are statements from union heads always filled with so much irony? I digress... the scary thing is that very few local agencies have taken a position on off-duty drinking.

The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has no policy restricting an officer's consumption of alcohol while carrying a weapon. The Orange County Sheriff's Department also has no specific policy, but officials said "common sense" would hold that deputies under the influence should not be in possession of firearms.

You would think this to be the case but what about New Year's eve of 2008, when an off-duty deputy who had been drinking at a party in Los Angeles accidentally shot a man in the leg while trying to show off a new holster? The duputy has been placed on leave. Or what about in 2004, when an off-duty deputy, driving while under the influence, hit another vehicle and was accused of pointing his gun at men from the other vehicle when they approached him? The deputy pleaded guilty to drunk driving and was suspended from the Sheriff's Department for 15 days. Or how about in 2003, when an off-duty deputy, who was drinking with friends at a bar, tussled with a security guard and then attempted to intimidate the guard by displaying a firearm in his waistband? Or how about in 2006, when Los Angeles County Sherrif's deputy Chris Sullivan, recently back from a tour in Iraq, went out with a buddy to celebrate his return and ended the night by shooting his friend in the mouth and killing him? Sullivan was heavily intoxicated at the time of the shooting.

I stongly believe that the majority of police officers joined the force for the right reasons and I also believe that the majority of police officers exercise good judgment on a regular basis. But like anything else in life it's a numbers game. For every 1000 stand-up cops who do the right thing all the time, there's inevitably 1 dip shit cop who'll decide that bringing his loaded 9-millimeter Beretta along for a weekend bender with the boys is somehow a good idea. Do the right thing here Sheriff's Union of Los Angeles and accept Sheriff Baca's new policy. Given the rise in alcohol-related incidents involving deputies, it makes too much sense not too. Not only will it make the city of Los Angeles a safer place for its citizens, but it will also help prevent a few bad eggs from giving the entire department a bad name.

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