The Chief
May 10, 2002

NYPD Eyes Tough Penalties for DWI

Drunken Cop Convicted

By Mark Daly

The Police Department is considering changes to its disciplinarypolicy for officers caught driving drunk, including a mandatory penalty of termination from the force for cops involved in serious accidents on or off the job.

In addition, officers found to have been driving while legally intoxicated might face a period of dismissal probation that would include random Breathalyzer testing, according to a draft of a new policy released last week to the police unions.

Spurred by Gray Case

The NYPD disclosed its efforts to revise its policy shortly before a jury in Brooklyn Supreme Court began deliberations in the manslaughter trial of former Police Officer Joseph Gray, who fatally struck a pregnant woman, her 4-year-old son and her teenaged sister after going on an all-day drinking binge while off duty.

He was convicted of manslaughter May 3 and faces up to 15 years in prison.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said any stricter policy would be combined with "a more proactive approach" to handling officers' drinking problems, by spreading the word about the confidential counseling programs available from the department and other sources. The NYPD has a "helpline" (718) 271-7777, which gives referrals to cops who seek counseling.

Mr. Kelly declined last week to talk abut the policy draft, which is still being vetted by the department's lawyers. But he was clear in a meeting with reporters that he will be seeking "to make a clearer statement of policy about what happens if in fact the law is violated."

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said it would wait for the final policy to be unveiled before commenting. PBA President Pat Lynch "is waiting to see what form the final policy takes and he will be watching it closely to ensure that PBA members are afforded the same due process as non-police officers," said the union's chief spokesman Al O'Leary.

The penalties under consideration could only be imposed after a departmental trial, or in a settlement of departmental charges. The practical effect of the changes would be to limit the discretion of the Police Commissioner in handling DWI vases.

For example, under the drafted policy, officers accused of causing "serious physical injury" while driving drunk would automatically be fired if they lost their departmental trial, "absent exceptional circumstances." Similarly, cops who admit to driving drunk would face probation and random Breathalyzer tests as part of any settlement of their case.