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Sheriff's employees' alcohol arrests up

April 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Drinking and driving is way up among deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. That's according to a new report that says as many as 70 employees of the department were arrested for alcohol-related crimes last year. The department has been working deliberately to cut the number of incidents. Instead, they're on the rise and arrests are across the board throughout the department: sworn officers, civilians, young deputies and older supervisors.

Sixteen thousand employees of the sheriff's department get a reminder every time they log on to a computer at work: "Alcohol And Firearms Don't Mix."

Sheriff Lee Baca plans to impose the strongest measure of its kind in the nation, a restriction that would bar off-duty deputies from carrying a weapon when they go partying.

"If you are off-duty and you have a gun, don't drink. If you are off-duty and don't have your badge or gun, of course enjoy yourself," said Steve Whitmore, L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. "But if you're off-duty and you have your weapon and if you have your badge, don't drink. Don't imbibe."

The latest finding by the Office of Independent Review shows why dramatic changes are necessary: A sharp rise in the arrests of sheriff personnel. Since 2004 they've nearly tripled to 70 arrests in 2008.

"They also include domestic violence incidents, drunk and disorderly incidents, and other misconduct that's off-duty in which alcohol has been a factor leading to an arrest," said Michael Gennaco, Office of Independent Review.

The report cites cases. One off-duty deputy drinking heavily showed his weapon and inadvertently pulled the trigger and shot his cousin.

In another case, an intoxicated deputy pulled out a weapon, then made advances on a bar hostess. As part of the new policy to clamp down, the department has sent to all employees details of each arrest.

"For example, like in the backseat of a car so inebriated, can't speak and is yelling and talking to the arresting officer," said Whitmore.

"I think it is too early to tell whether it is going to work," said Gennaco. "The rate hasn't substantially decreased, although it has not increased since this new awareness policy, since the awareness campaign has been instituted."

The department believes everyone is getting the message.

"Decades ago, law enforcement may have been stopped for driving under the influence, they might have gotten a pass," said Whitmore. "That's not occurring anymore. People are being held accountable and they should be held accountable."

It is important to note that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is one of the few law-enforcement organizations in the nation that actually opens up its books, tracks these numbers and then reveals the numbers. The Office of Independent Review points out that Los Angeles Police Dept. is just as big -- they do not open up their books or show the number of their officers who are arrested.


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