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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Activists Call for Penalties for Cops Who Protect Bad Cops

Activists call for penalties when cops protect colleagues who drive drunk
The Journal News by Richard Liebson and Shawn Cohen - January 21, 2010 (

Public safety officials and those fighting drunken driving said Tuesday that any officer who gives cops who drive drunk a free pass should be disciplined and that anyone found driving while intoxicated should be held accountable. "There should be no tolerance for individuals in our profession who allow others to violate the laws that are there for everyone," said Tuckahoe Police Chief John Costanzo, president of the Westchester County Association of Chiefs of Police. Reacting to a Journal News report in which 10 local police officers admitted anonymously that cops often give other cops a break when they are found driving drunk, Costanzo and others said no slack should be granted in DWI cases. Carol Sears, president of the Westchester chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called the report "very disturbing." "These are the people who are supposed to be protecting all of us," she said. "We put our trust in them to keep drunk drivers off the road, and it turns out that when they're the drunk drivers, they're being protected by other police officers." The issue comes in the wake of the arrests of White Plains Officer Joe Zepeda, Westchester Officer Joseph Kraus, Dobbs Ferry Officer Michael Huffman and county Correction Officer Patricia Yancy-Johnson on misdemeanor DWI charges following accidents within a three-week period. All four, who were off duty, refused to submit to chemical tests to determine blood-alcohol levels. All have pleaded not guilty. They also are under internal investigation and face departmental discipline. Vito Pinto, chairman of the Westchester Board of Legislators' Public Safety Committee, said the arrests "prove that drunk driving is something that goes across all cultural and economic lines." "I believe strongly that police officers are not different than anybody else," he said. "This is a crime that affects everybody. "Our police officers take the lead in protecting the public from DWI," Pinto said. "I'm somewhat surprised and disappointed that some say they would cover up for fellow officers. Our police officers have enjoyed the confidence of the public over the years, and in order to keep that confidence, we need to meet this issue head on." He said the county would work with the chiefs association. "This is something that must and will be addressed in training, not only at the police academy but in all of our local departments," Pinto said. Costanzo said that while he doesn't believe cops covering for cops in DWI cases is a common practice, "I'm not that naive to think that it doesn't happen at all. Certainly all of us that want to make the police profession the best it can be want to earn the public trust. When members of our respective departments either say or do things that indicate there are two sets of rules, it's detrimental to all of us." Sears said that, according to MADD, the average person stopped on suspicion of DWI for the first time has driven drunk 87 times without being stopped. "Many of these people have alcohol problems, and getting stopped can be the first step in making them realize that they have a problem," she said. "If it happens to be a police officer with the problem, they're not being helped by having their fellow officers cover up for them." If convicted of DWI, Sears said, officers "should lose their licenses for a substantial amount of time and be required to have the ignition interlock installed in their car." "As police officers, they should be held to as high a standard as anyone else, if not higher," she said. Sears said any officer who covers up for another officer should be brought up on charges. "I'd like to see some agency or entity investigate this whole 'blue wall of silence' thing," she said. "If a cop's caught driving drunk, they should be brought up on charges, and they should also lose their badge," said Michael Bastardi Jr., whose father and brother were among eight people killed in July when drunken driver Diane Schuler crashed while traveling the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway. "If a police officer gives another police officer a pass and lets them continue to drive drunk, they should be suspended from the force. That's just ludicrous ," he said. "Nobody should be exempt from drunken-driving laws."


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