Over an 11-day span in February, three off-duty NYPD officers were arrested for driving under the influence. One was nabbed as he sat behind the wheel of a double-parked car in Harlem. The other two were involved in serious crashes, one of which ended with the officer’s car overturned on a Midtown Manhattan sidewalk. It’s of little comfort that the resulting injuries — to four people in all — were limited to those inside the vehicles, when the casualty count could just as easily have included an innocent victim.
Following two incidents late last year in which off-duty cops killed pedestrians, then refused to submit to Breathalyzer tests, Commissioner Ray Kelly worked with city district attorneys to expedite the collection of blood evidence from motorists arrested on suspicion of driving drunk. But as civil service newsweekly The Chief-Leader reported after the deaths of Vionique Valnord and Drana Nikac, Kelly has yet to match the department’s zero tolerance drug abuse policy with one that addresses cops who drink and drive.
The paper speculates that Kelly’s inaction may stem from drinking as an accepted facet of cop culture, despite the fact that driving drunk can be at least as harmful as the use of illegal drugs:
[W]hile it’s legal to drink, it isn’t to then drive when under the influence. And those who do so are committing at least as serious a crime as those who use cocaine or heroin; in some cases more so, since the NYPD’s one-strike-and-you’re-out drug policy makes no distinction between those who abuse them without leaving their homes but come up dirty on a subsequent test and those who are out in the street presenting a potential menace whether behind the wheel or not.
When an off-duty homicide detective killed himself last September by slamming into a garbage truck on the BQE, union reps called for NYPD to change the way it handles detectives’ shift assignments in hopes of reducing drinking and driving during off-hours. To our knowledge Kelly himself has taken no action to put a stop to a chronic problem that every day endangers the lives of city police officers and civilians alike.