When you start drinking to the point that you’ve forgotten what the law is and your obligation to uphold it, then you’re not one of us.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

In this month’s issue of the Star and Shield, the official publication of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association, Lt. Brian Moriguchi takes his agency, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, to task for some of the draconian policies it’s adopted in an effort to impact alcohol-related incidents among its employees.

In his article, Moriguchi acknowledges that some practical changes may be needed to counteract a recent spike in alcohol-related incidents involving deputies. But he correctly notes that such changes should be “developed thoughtfully, with patience and the input of stakeholders, and not in a mad rush by those trying to get promoted or secure additional staffing to implement these new procedures (empire building).”

Moriguchi cites the exorbitant nature of the newly recommended disciplinary guidelines as a particular problem.

“Raising discipline is not the cure-all for preventing alcohol abuse or fixing any other systemic problem. Do we really think about how many days off we will get when we are chugging down our fifth beer? Of course not. Discipline is an important part of any department policy, but the belief that you can alter behavior simply by raising discipline is a simplistic approach to a complex problem.”

I’m very sympathetic with Lt. Moriguchi as alcohol abuse by cops is a pet peeve of mine. That having been said, I’m no teetotaler and have been known to have a drink or two in my time. But whatever my likes or dislikes, it’s been a helluva long time since anyone could consider me drunk on anything harder than sarsaparilla, let alone behind the wheel while intoxicated.

Still, as I try to be as honest as my naturally compromised state will allow, I’ll cop to it: I’ve driven under the influence. So not only does that make me a hypocrite, but it gives cop haters and other idiots one more thing to throw in my face for years to come.
Mea culpa.

The bottom line is that I was shit-stupid when I did it and damned lucky I didn’t get caught or worse. And if you’re the weekend warrior out there every Saturday tying another one on, well, I guess the same may be said of you. Perhaps you will continue to defy the odds and common sense and get away with it.

But I can’t say as much about some of the cops that I’ve known. With some, it was like watching a slow-motion train wreck unfold, with Jack (Daniels) stoking the engine and Jim (Beam) slicking the rails.

And once called on the carpet in the aftermath of some alcohol-fueled domestic/DUI/disorderly conduct, the off-duty (and occasionally on-duty) cop would petition amnesty with all the low-rent sincerity of rat-skunk Mumia Abu Jamal: “I didn’t do it—hiccup!” Many even believed that the badge conferred a kind of diplomatic immunity, a “King’s X” if you will.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. In fact, cops are usually held to a higher standard. If your local gynecologist or barber gets popped for DUI, you probably won’t be seeing their faces on the local news or reading of it in the newspaper. But if it’s a cop, the odds are damned good you will. Moreover, while neither the gyno nor the hair-cropper are likely to lose their jobs, you may not be so fortunate.

And part of the reason is that the cop—that atavistic badge-bearing anchor of the legal system—is expected to know better. He knows the legal limits. He is immersed in the legal ramifications that come in the wake of a DUI. Hell, his are usually the first moistened eyes to take in the horrendous accident scenes caused by DUI drivers.

But it’s not just the impaired cop who shifts the car into drive that’s a problem. Nope, a surefire cocktail for disaster is to simply let some of our boozed-up and besotted brethren loose for a night on the town.

Consider the following noxious cocktail recipes:

• Take one part the abstinent nature of Ted Kennedy, the romantic benevolence of Richard Speck, and the temperate nature of Mike Tyson, and you’ll create a concoction along the lines of Chicago’s Anthony Abbate, the off-duty cop seen thumping bartender Karolina Obrycka mercilessly in the “Cops Gone Wild” video series.

• Or sprinkle a dash of a Tailhooking naval officer, add a splash of John Daly’s self-control, and mix in some John McClain “Yippee ki-yay” enthusiasm, and you can find yourself disgracing Police Week by pinching nurses bottoms or sliding naked down banisters in Washington, D.C. Some of your brethren did exactly that a few years back.

• Or you can mix some Marquis de Sade with a liberal dash of the Three Stooges to come up with the equivalent of Milwaukee’s Terrible Trio of police party hosts who were responsible for kicking, punching, stabbing, and knifing a trio of innocents found guilty by their intoxicated tribunal of stealing a badge. These guys have been sentenced to hard time in federal prison.

How many cops have bellied up to bars only to find themselves later locked behind them is unknown. But those who seek to somehow acquire the comedic wit of Foster Brooks, the lovable sophistication of Dean Martin, and the harmlessness of Otis the Town Drunk, by overindulging might better be served by reminding themselves that none of these entertainers were actually drunk while acting like they were.

And even if you’re not the drinking type, you still want to avoid allowing yourself or others to get caught up in the drama of those who do.

For instance, let’s say you find yourself dealing with an off-duty officer who is DUI and you’re tempted to cut him some slack. If that’s the case, then YOU do it. Don’t call a supervisor over to get him involved as a co-conspirator, then yell “motherf____r” at him after he tells you to take the guy to jail. He owes more to himself and his family than he does a person who should know better than anyone else to drink and drive. For that matter, so do you.

Because when you start drinking to the point that you’ve forgotten what the law is and your obligation to uphold it, then you’re not one of us. You’ve just become part of the problem.

I don’t get particularly pious on many things. As a Playboy-reading agnostic hedonist, I probably won’t get the Christian rightwing vote, but whatever I’ve indulged in, I like to think it involved consenting adults even if our maturity was suspect. And while I may not have always been a shining example of all things in moderation, I did try to keep from becoming a liability to my fellow man.

I wonder if badged boozers can say as much for themselves.

So I guess I’ll close with this thought: If you feel one iota defensive that I might be talking to you, I may be.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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