(TAC) He was served a few too many, now his police union wants to protect his job. Most of us who aren’t naive know that law enforcement officers get treated differently when it comes to traffic laws. I’m not talking about the justifiable emergency cases on duty when a cop has to speed, run a red light or otherwise violate traffic laws. In those cases the laws in all 50 of the United States specifically exempt LEOs from traffic ordinances.
No, what I’m talking about are all the casual and formal ways in which cops give other cops a break. Some of them are unquestionably acts of criminal corruption, as in the recent ticket fixing scandal in the Bronx where 16 police officers and police union officials have been indicted. Scandals like that undoubtedly grow out of the culture of “professional courtesy” where those on the other side of the thin blue line and their families get a pass on traffic tickets. Spend a few minutes at LEO forums and you’ll see that in cop culture, it’s a very bad thing to give an off-duty cop a traffic ticket. When those 16 NYPD officers were arraigned, hundreds of their fellow cops and police union members showed up at the courthouse to support them and not incidentally try to intimidate journalists and keep them from publishing photos of the indicted and arraigned police officers doing the perp walk.
I would hope that what some cops say on those forums is true and that most LEOs draw the line for professional courtesy at alcohol related offenses, but with alcohol related offenses, too, some cops are undoubtedly giving their buddies in blue a break sometimes with a ride home instead of a ticket. “Undoubtedly” because while you can easily find cases of cops, off-duty and on-duty, getting arrested or ticketed for drunk driving, a large percentage of those incidents involve accidents. Most non cop DUI citations, on the other hand, don’t involve accidents. Do the math. The logical conclusion is that when LEOs are suspected of DUI, they get a “professional courtesy” ride home. It’s when there is an accident, when what he or she does can’t be covered up, that a LEO gets arrested for DUI.
Though they are quite open about it when among cops, when talking to their employers, regular folks who aren’t cops, LEOs will rarely acknowledge publicly that “professional courtesy” even exists. Now, a Denver police officer who got fired after getting caught driving 88 miles an hour over the speed limit while having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit is taking cops’ sense of entitlement to a new level. Calling his firing a violation of principles of fundamental fairness, he wants his job back and his public employee labor union, the Denver Police Protection Association, is backing him in his appeal.
Derrick Curtis Saunders, an off-duty Denver police officer with a passenger in his car, was stopped by the Colorado State Patrol in June of 2010. Troopers said Saunders was doing 143 mph in a 55 mph zone and they measured his blood alcohol content at 0.089, just over the legal limit of 0.08. One must wonder what would have happened had he been stopped by a fellow member of the Denver PD. Since it was the State Patrol, though, his home PD couldn’t ignore it. Saunders doesn’t deny he was drunk or that he was speeding excessively. In May of 2011 he plead guilty to reckless and impaired driving, paid a $ 300 fine, got 5 days in the county jail, and had to do 100 hours of community service. Subsequent to his conviction, the Denver police chief fired him, calling the officer’s actions “shocking”, “egregious misconduct”, and that they showed “a serious lack of character” and “a willful and wanton disregard” for department values.” Still, as shocking, egregious, serious and wanton as Saunders’ actions were, Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, waited seven months after Saunders’ guilty plea and a full year and a half after his original arrest on DUI charges to fire him.
Now I could be wrong but I suspect that in most private sector jobs, if your employer found out that you got arrested for driving over 140mph drunk, you just might get fired and if you did get fired, you’d probably have no recourse through the courts. Most people are employed at will. If you did have a legal case, you’ll probably have to pay for your attorney out of your own pocket, and you certainly wouldn’t be on the payroll for 18 months while your boss decided whether or not to fire you.
Despite the fact that he admits he was triple digit speeding drunk, Saunders and his fellow cops, through their union, think he should be back on the job so he can potentially give you tickets for DUI. Isn’t that nice? It gets better. Since the union’s funds come from dues ultimately paid for by taxpayers, those taxpayers are actually paying for Saunders’ appeal.
This is not the first time that Saunders had to be disciplined. In 2009 in he was suspended from the force after he was charged in Aurora, CO, again, by a police force other than his own, with felony menacing, prohibited use of a weapon, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct, after he dropped the race card, flew into a rage and brandished his police firearm when a McDonald’s restaurant apparently took too long serving his order. Saunders was eventually acquitted of those charges.
His current appeal of his firing over the DUI arrest and conviction was made to the Denver Civil Service Commission, filed by Police Protective Association lawyers. It argues that disciplinary action against Saunders was “unfounded and/or unsupported by the facts”. His firing, the appeal claims, was “disproportionate to the offenses alleged and/or is excessive so as to be punitive rather than corrective in nature.”
Next time you get a ticket, be sure to tell the cop who cites you and the judge who convicts you that any fine should be corrective in nature rather than punitive.