New York Daily News

June 21, 2007


One hundred-proof proof

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is instituting improvements in how the NYPD screens, trains and supervises undercover officers - and is wisely ordering mandatory alcohol testing of any member of the force, undercover or not, who wounds or kills someone in a shooting.

The moves are an outgrowth of the fatal shooting last November of Sean Bell by detectives who had been working undercover in a Queens strip joint. It was clear after the 50-shot barrage that killed an unarmed Bell that the operation had gone horribly wrong. Two officers were charged with manslaughter; a third, with reckless endangerment.

While there is no evidence drinking played a role, some of the cops had consumed beer, as is permissible in limited quantities when undercover in a bar. Per standard practice, a commanding officer deemed all five members of the undercover team fit for duty based on personal observation after the shooting.

In hindsight, applying subjective judgment to decide sobriety after a life-and-death use of police force was an invitation to trouble. The public and the cops deserve the confidence that will come from measuring alcohol consumption scientifically through the use of a Breathalyzer.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Detectives' Endowment Association say they will fight Kelly's Breathalyzer order. PBA President Patrick Lynch said Breathalyzer testing "is unnecessary and excessive" and would "cast doubt on every shooting by subjecting a police officer to a test for which there is no cause." DEA chief Michael Palladino said, "It is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining."

We disagree. Indeed, there is no reason not to require Breathalyzer testing whenever a cop fires a gun, regardless of whether someone is hit. Cops rarely fire their guns - most spend 20 or 30 year on the force without ever firing a shot. Sober cops will have nothing to fear.

As for collective bargaining, Kelly appears to have unilateral authority thanks to New York's highest court, which recently certified that the police commissioner has broad disciplinary powers.

Calling for Breathalyzer tests was one of 19 recommendations by an internal NYPD panel. Among the others were stress counseling for undercovers and closer monitoring of supervisors. They all make sense. They could all save lives.