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Cops Allowed to Work "Half Drunk"

Officers in some Chicago suburbs are even permitted to patrol while legally drunk.

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By Bryan Le

02/15/13

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One might expect police officers to face harsher-than-average penalties for on-the-job drinking. But this is not the case, according to a recent report by the Better Government Association. In Chicago and surrounding areas, union rules dictate that cops can show up to work with a 0.049 blood alcohol content without facing disciplinary action. The rationale is that a zero-tolerance policy wouldn't account for incidentals—such as an officer having wine with dinner before an overnight shift, or taking a bit of cough medicine. But several departments even impose a limit as high as 0.08 BAC—which is the definition of legally drunk in all 50 states. "I worry about it every day," says Sam Pulia, Mayor of Westchester, Illinois. "I could argue that you are half drunk. I still believe that police officers are held to a higher standard." Many community members and former officers believe that any amount of alcohol poses a safety threat. "I think it places the city at great risk," says Walter Zalisko, a retired police chief who now runs Police Management Consultants International in Fort Myers, Fla. "Zero would be the wise choice, that you can’t have any alcohol." But an area police chief, April Padalik, insists there is no cause for concern—if a cop were drunk on the job, supervisors would intervene. "We’ve never had a problem," says Padalik. "We would follow policy and procedure, and that employee would be removed from duty." Evidently there is some exception: the City of Chicago recently paid a $4.1 million settlement to a man's family after he was fatally shot by a drunk police officer.

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