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CA: New LAPD policy lowers off-duty drinking limit

CA: New LAPD policy lowers off-duty drinking limit

Los Angeles Times
By Libor Jany, Staff Writer
January 11, 2023

The Los Angeles Police Department has tightened its policy on off-duty officers drinking alcohol while armed, making it a violation for an officer to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04% or higher.

The civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department, voted Tuesday in favor of the policy. The change prohibits officers who are carrying firearms while off duty from drinking “to the extent that it causes impairment.”

The policy, however, limits who must submit to a test of their blood-alcohol level. Only officers “who exhibit objective symptoms of being under the influence of alcohol, or where there is reasonable and articulable suspicion that the employee has consumed an alcoholic beverage, shall be required to submit to testing,” the policy reads.

The 0.04% blood-alcohol limit is half the legal limit for determining if someone is driving under the influence in California.

Tuesday’s votes comes several weeks after LAPD brass issued a departmentwide bulletin cautioning cops not to drink and drive, following the arrests of seven officers on suspicion of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore told commissioners on Tuesday that the recent episodes were a reflection of a surge in drinking during the pandemic.

The rule change capped a long-running debate over whether the department should tighten its rules on drinking. A 2021 Times storypointed to apparent failures by the department to develop clear policies despite multiple instances of drunk and armed off-duty officers allegedly causing trouble.

Alcohol abuse has been a persistent issue in the LAPD, as in other law enforcement agencies, with many officers in Los Angeles investigated each year for alleged drunk driving or other alcohol-related incidents.

Department statistics presented at the Commission meeting Tuesday showed that the department fielded at least 35 drug and alcohol related complaints last year, 18 of which led to arrests. Those numbers started to climb again, after falling from 50 complaints in 2019 to 21 and 30 in the subsequent two years.

The problem has received scrutiny in the past as members of the Police Commission raised concerns about what they saw as the department’s lenient handling of such cases.

Under the previous chief, Charlie Beck, the department tried a new tack that showed leniency for an officer’s first offense but was followed by a lengthy suspension, or even termination, after a second incident. At the time, Beck said this progressive discipline approach was an improvement over the traditional system, which allowed officers with several alcohol-related incidents to remain on the job and doled out incrementally more severe punishments.

The policy of the other large law enforcement agency in the county, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, states that armed, off-duty deputies “shall not consume any intoxicating substance to the point where the employee is unable to or does not exercise reasonable care and/or control of the firearm.”

Under the sheriff’s policy, deputies with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or more are unable to “exercise reasonable care,” but deputies above that limit can rebut claims they violated the policy by trying to demonstrate they acted reasonably.