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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cops Protecting Bad Cops

The unwritten rule
The Journal News - EDITORIAL - January 20, 2010

The report in the Journal News on Sunday confirmed what many had long suspected: Off-duty cops who drink and drive can pretty much expect to get away with it, as long as they don't cause an accident. Staff writers Richard Liebson and Shawn Cohen provided a rare glimpse behind the famed blue wall of silence, as 10 patrol officers spoke anonymously about the professional courtesy extended to off-duty police officers who are stopped for driving drunk. "If you can get them a ride home and put their car someplace safe, that's what you do," said one. "It's kind of an unwritten rule. You don't jam up another cop unless you have to." At a time when the public is calling for zero tolerance of drinking and driving, as reflected in our ever-stricter DWI laws, it is unconscionable that anyone — let alone a sworn officer of the law — would be given a pass for behavior that is reckless and puts others at serious risk. After a summer of DWI-related carnage, New York adopted some of the strictest DWI laws in the country: Ignition locks are now mandatory for anyone convicted of drunken driving, and Leandra's Law makes it a felony punishable with up to four years in jail for anyone to drive drunk with a child 15 or under in a car. But the impact of those tough laws can be undermined with a wink and a nod from a police officer who doesn't apply them equally to all drivers. Cops who enable their brethren to drink and drive are not doing anyone a favor — not the other drivers on the roads, and not the offending officer. The fear of arrest alone is a powerful deterrent to drinking and driving. Knowing they might have to face the legal consequences has doubtless kept many drivers sober — and kept them out of harm and tragedy's way. Giving a drunken driver a pass in situations where an accident hasn't occurred, is more than a wasted opportunity; it is tempting fate. Consider the statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which say that by the time a person is arrested for DWI, he or she has already driven drunk an average of 87 times. Lucky streaks don't last forever. Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore said her office was "looking to erode the culture of tolerance and to make sure that all of us in law enforcement are responding in the strong and effective way that we should be." That is essential. Perhaps a new public service campaign, targeted at the law-keepers, is needed, too: "Cops don't let cops drive drunk."

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