Do you think you are special or something?

COPS (TV series)
COPS (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is going to be sort of “free thought” and probably a bit disjointed so please bear with me as I try to put this together…

In the local news here a story was recently posted about an off duty LEO getting arrested by another agency for DWI. The social media comments then soon followed:

“Bet he gets off of it.”

“Good. They should be treated like everybody else.”

“They should be held to a higher standard.”

And so on….

Let me start out by saying that I think anybody who breaks the law should be prepared to face the consequences, regardless of your job or position in society. That’s the only way this system works. And I DO believe that we LEO’s have to hold ourselves to a higher standard simply because we are representatives of that system. Agreed. 110%.

However, there seems to be a Catch 22 in play here. Cops should be “treated just like anybody else” but they should also be treated differently (held to a higher standard) because they are cops. How does that work?

If you think every doctor, lawyer, nurse, etc who was ever arrested for DWI gets their names and profession paraded through the news you are sorely mistaken. Should we do so?

Never mind the issue of HOW this story made the news in the first place. Either the arresting agency contacted the media, the arrested officers department released it, the press heard something on a scanner or some disgruntled ex called the press. The stuff you see in the media is but a small fraction of the total number of arrests. Unless the PD or some other party has a particular interest in calling the media in, 99% of people locked up never have their story hit a major local outlet.

Of course there is the possibility that the off-duty was an ass and the arresting agency thought “screw him”. Or the arrested guys PD has been looking for a reason to can him and though the press could help “move him along”…who knows?

Treated like everybody else? That may kind of depend on the local PD or the individual cops involved. I have let many “non-cops” go with warnings. I’ve let people get rides home (all totally legal folks…if there was an accident or someone hurt they faced the music 100%). I’ve allowed that joint to get ground up and tossed in the gutter vs arrest (again…100% by the law). Should we treat cops with the same discretion? That’s a sticky question. Where do you draw the line? A cop with a joint is different from your college student daughter. But how do you balance “treat him/her like anyone else” with “hit him all the harder because he’s a cop”?

Do you just blindly let people off based on their LEO status? Do you let every auto-worker go simply because he works at the local factory? If you don’t, how is that fair? On the flip side, should I NEVER let your wife off with a warning for a brake light out or a one day expired registration? Should I never let a cop off with a warning for the same thing?

“Bet he gets off”…What? Like the 99% of other first time arrests who get sentenced to probation, or get a DWI reduced to an impaired and a fine? That would be getting treated “like everybody else”.

My thought’s (in general…there will always be exceptions)?  If we are going to treat cops “like anybody else” lets be consistent. If I’m not calling in the press on a surgeon locked up for DWI then I shouldn’t do it to a cop either. Certainly, someone from his/her PD should be notified so that they can deal with the repercussions of “being held to a higher standard”, but beyond that I don’t think airing non-felony arrests simply because it looks “transparent” is fair. For routine vehicle and traffic stops? If I can give a pass to your kid I shouldn’t be given grief for giving a pass to a cop. For routine stuff of course. If you find yourself giving passes for stuff you would NEVER give a pass to a non-LEO for that’s a sign of a problem.

In the end I guess I’m looking for a little clarification on expectations beyond the personal grudges people have against cops. Lets set aside all the baggage, name calling and “I remember when I was stopped” stories and discuss the facts and figures involved here.



13 thoughts on “Do you think you are special or something?”

  1. Here is my never-been-a-LEO perspective: Where I live (Illinois) a DUI conviction has severe consequences, the best case being $10k+ in fines and costs with a loss of driving privileges. My town’s police department is well-known for aggressive traffic enforcement, most especially DUI enforcement. If an officer from my town got popped for a DUI I’m certain he or she would be fired, if for no other reason than a valid driver’s license is required for employment.

    Police officers do need to be held to a higher standard, because we trust them with an awful lot of power and discretion. How can we trust them to enforce the law fairly and dispassionately when they don’t follow it themselves? If police departments don’t act with transparency we won’t trust them.

    With that said, I agree with much of what you wrote. If you can give a pass for a minor traffic infraction to my kid you should be able to do the same thing for a fellow officer.

    For what it’s worth, I know many of the officers in my town and my opinion is that we have one of the best departments anywhere.

  2. Thanks for the reply Mike.

    Just to be clear, my intent in this post was centered more around the “newsworthyness” of an off-duty LEO’s DWI arrest vs if the guy should have been arrested or not. If we (Cops) are to be treated “just like anybody else” (and when it comes to violations than we absolutely should) then by all means charge an off-duty with DWI but then “just like everybody else” don’t subject him/her to special treatment in the press.

    Where I work, nobody arrested for DWI gets a press release. The blotters in the small town papers may list a name associated with an arrest but never a detail like “doctor, lawyer, steelworker, etc.”. And when my guys arrested an off-duty years back the only people who knew were the officer and the officers supervisor (minus the arresting officers and the court of course). I see no benefit to airing LEO “dirty laundry”. Some Chiefs think that people will respect us more for the transparency, but the haters are always gonna hate. And this “transparency” tends to feed the hate vs assure the public IMO.

    On the disciplinary end of things. I certainly believe a DWI COULD end a cops career, but I’m not 100% sure it ALWAYS SHOULD end a cops career. If a guy has an otherwise stellar performance record should a non-accident DWI arrest be the end of his job and mean the loss of all the expense involved in the hiring and training of him/her?

    It certainly deserves disciplinary action, absolutely. And harsh. But many departments have “rubber gun” jobs a guy can do till his driving issue is worked out.

    Do you realize how many teachers have been locked up for DWI? Doctors? I’m not saying they should be fired either. People make mistakes…good people make mistakes…and I’m not convinced that a first time DWI without an accident should mean the loss of a productive member of society.

    I believe that the reason behind some officers not arresting for DWI’s and letting cops call for rides vs arrests is because of the “career ending” implications. I think that if fewer people were out for cop blood and let an arrested officer pay the penalty and return to work (if justified) you would see more officers charging off-duties for violations of the law and less grey area discretion use.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

      In my town, I think there would be a huge outcry if a police officer were to keep his or her job after a DUI conviction, given how strictly our police department enforces it. Friends in Federal law enforcement have told me that a DUI is an instant termination offense. If your locale and department has a somewhat looser standard, I’m in no position to judge.

      Arrest records in Illinois are subject to FOIA. If a police officer is arrested for anything and there isn’t a press release, there will be accusations of a coverup. Transparency leads to improved relations with the media and with the community — I’ve seen the difference between our department and others nearby.

      If arrest records aren’t subject to FOIA where you are, I can see keeping all arrests to yourselves until there is a conviction. Where I live, it would be a terrible error on the department’s part. It may be unpleasant for the officer but I don’t see another way to do it here.

      1. Your responses are appreciated Mike.

        Arrests are certainly subject to FOIA. Departmental discipline is not.

        IMO I don’t see how if an arrest was made and the legal process followed, how a PD could be accused of covering up. I do certainly see the accusation being levied. But a “cover up” to me would mean never arrested, never punished.

        That being said some officers around here have lost their jobs over DWI’s. My verbal diarrhea here is more about my ruminating if its deserved 100% of the time. There is a big expense in training cops and while some offenses (robbery, theft, etc.) should mean instant termination, I’m not 100% convinced that ALL others should.

      2. I am certainly not convinced that all offenses should result in an officer’s termination either.

  3. And…”right or wrong”…if the person involved is from YOUR department and someone you work with, that throws a whole different angle on things. That really requires you to take a stand on whats right and ethical.

    Dealing with someone from another agency is tough enough. Taking action against someone you may depend on to cover your back someday is even tougher. That’s where your first line supervision really needs to have guts. Assuming the cop had the guts to call a Sergeant/Lieutenant when he comes across a fellow patrolman in a sticky legal situation.

  4. The difference between a cop and a doctor is that doctors are policed by an independent organization… Cops. Where as cops are policed by other cops. As you point out, this is a conflict of interested because you may be relying on this guy for backup to save your skin tomorrow. When I see a police car speed by with no lights on I want to assume they are not just taking advantage of the badge on the side of the car but I have no way to verify that and I know nobody is ever going to challenge it. I may even be speeding too but I know that by doing so I run the risk of being singled out and having to live with the consequences. The officer knows he is off the hook. It strikes at the hart of justice. Cops aren’t just any other professional.They are the embodiment of the law. They don’t need to be held to a higher standard. The law is the same standard for all of us. They do need to hold themselves more completely to the standard to prevent being seen as taking advantage of the badge. I’m sure you know that while most cops are earnest and fair there are bad actors. We rely on good cops to weed out the bad ones.

    1. Just want to restate my general point. That being that you can’t have it (philosophically) both ways. If police are to be treated “just like anyone else” than treat them just like anyone else.

      If they do something illegal (like a DWI) run them through the system like anybody else. To then DEMAND that the cop be FIRED or somehow treated differently from anyone else who wouldn’t be FIRED for the same offense is kind of contradictory.

      Police oversight is outside the scope of this particular post, but there is always an agency “over the head” of a department. County or State Police or FBI could all investigate me if I do something illegal and someone thinks my PD is covering it up.

      In regards to the “good cops need to take care of bad cops” thing…I hear/see that sentiment frequently these days but can’t figure out what people REALLY mean by it. What can I do about Baltimore PD’s problems? Hell, what can I really do about ANY PD’s “issues” other than my own?

      Even there…people have no clue what power/ability a “good cop” has to effect change in a “bad department”.

      IMO this is rooted in a sort of fallacy that some people seem to subscribe to. That being that all “cops” are somehow one homogeneous group. That what you see happening on the television on the other side of the nation necessarily means that the same thing is happening at your local PD and that DAMN IT! SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE!

      In the USA, police departments can be as unique in their “culture” as your Town/City can be from mine. A department can be as corrupt as hell and the PD right next to it can be exemplary.

    2. Just to throw something into the discussion….by law, many States do make Cops “special” under the law.

      In NY, persons who are police officers have arrest powers that non-LEO’s do not. And the law does not differentiate between being on-duty or off. I’m a “cop” 24-7-365 within my jurisdiction and with statewide powers under specific circumstances.

      1. First off I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your thoughtfulness and fairness and it is interesting to hear your insiders view.
        I’m not talking about far flung agencies. If you pull over a car for failure to maintain lane and find your buddy on the force or maybe another force (state, city, county) that overlaps yours, you, acting within your legal discretion, will have to make a choice on how you are going to execute. If you give leniency here it will have a much higher likelihood to be seen as cheating justice than if it were a doctor. It’s not fair. That is my point. With great power comes great responsibility as they say. The public confidence in law enforcement hinges ultimately on a faith in the individual officers. Fair or not, you’re all as good as the guy on the front page rescuing a child and as bad as the dirty cop on TV. You can’t claim you are the same as the rest of us. You are the embodiment of the law.
        For instance, a buddy of mine is the local fire chief (an LEO) and had to arrest the son of the next door departments Chief for arson for burning down an out building. I’m sure he would rather just let the kid off. Who didn’t start a fire or three as a kid, but as the son of a fire chief he’s going to have extra scrutiny of how the law is applied. Regardless of how he would treat someone else if he let’s the kid off it will be seen as favorable treatment.

      2. Thanks for the conversation Sir. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my ramblings here. 😉

        Just to continue the conversation.

        There are always more facets to stuff like this than you may think…it’s beyond any cliche “thin blue line” story folks can concoct from their media based “outside” experience.

        For example…in your “failure to maintain lane” story.

        So I make the stop and it’s a “non-cop”. If there is no indication of intoxication…maybe the driver looked down at the radio and swerved a bit, I can write or I can warn. If the person IS intoxicated. I still have some discretion. What was the circumstance of my coming across him? Just how drunk are we talking? Would this be the drivers first arrest? What is his general driving record like? Whats his general attitude like?

        Since I stopped him and there was apparently no accident or complaint from the public involved I have the option of having the driver call someone to come pick him up. Or I can test him and arrest him.

        Say this same person was a cop. I still consider all of the same facts/options but I have additional concerns.

        Am I one of those “your a cop and you should have known better” types that arrests simply because of the “higher standard”?

        Am I the type that gives a blind pass and lets him drive away just because he is a cop?

        Do I make him call his wife/girlfriend/co-worker/etc. to come pick him up?

        Do I not arrest, but call the officers work supervisor to come get him and let his PD possibly punish him “in house” with an IA and possible suspension? That’s an option I don’t have with the “non-cop”.

        IMO. One size fits all/Zero Tolerance approaches are never a good approach to dealing with human beings. Firing an otherwise “good cop” over a singular indiscretion simply because of zero tolerance “higher standards” philosophy. Letting bad cops continue to go on because of some “thin blue line” bullshit. All of it. It’s a bad approach.

      3. I’m with you there all the way there. I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance. People are people. Cops included. 😉
        You guys do a job I would never want. You have to deal with the worst of society on their worst day all day and then be objective with the next guy. Not for me, but I’m glad you guys do such a good job of it on whole.

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