Should officers convicted of impaired driving be fired?

Chris Lewis
December 23, 2016
By Chris Lewis
The Canadian public’s expectation is that police officers will work and live within established legal frameworks and at a higher standard than other members of the communities they serve. Those parameters should not be cast aside as they are now in some – albeit limited numbers of cases, when officers drive while impaired.

A number of Canadian officers have been convicted of impaired driving. Most resulted from off duty incidents, but some have occurred on duty, while driving an unmarked police car and wearing a gun. I recall one event where the officer was actually on patrol in a marked police vehicle while drunk. The public should only be concerned about their speed when they spot a police car coming towards them, not whether or not the cop has been drinking.

Some officers have been dismissed through Police Act hearings following impaired driving convictions over the years, but have been reinstated through various appeal processes. Because of these precedent setting cases, it seems no police Adjudicator is able to dismiss an officer for this unless there are other factors involved, like injury or death as a result of a collision.

One year with a suspended driver’s licence and a second year with a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in the vehicle (which no police service is going to install in a police car) puts the service in a position to find desk work for that officer for two full years. That’s challenging enough in a large force, let alone in a small one. There are only so many of the jobs available and they should be offered to those with valid health issues or demonstrated personal needs – not to officers with limitations coming from criminal convictions.

Comparatively, most American police officers would be immediately fired upon conviction and in some instances merely for being arrested. Community members in civilian jobs where driving is a core part of their daily responsibilities are often fired at the moment of their arrest for impaired driving, and certainly once convicted. Why are Canadian officers that are entrusted with enforcing that very law treated differently? I don’t want to give the false perception that this is a rampant situation, but it does occur and it is blatantly wrong.

I recognize that sometimes valid influencing factors truly exist. Mental health issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder must always be considered during sentencing, but that also can’t become the fallback defence whenever an offending officer’s career is in peril.
Although my opinion will be abhorred by most police association leaders and some members, it will be tremendously popular with the majority of officers who remain honest, committed and as they bravely toil 24/7 to protect the public they are sworn to serve.
Driving is a key competency for police officers. They need to know from day one of their employment that if they lose their driving privilege for driving while impaired, they will consequently lose the privilege of being a police officer.

Legal minds much greater than mine need to effectively address this issue, so that we can rid police services of those that choose to get behind the wheel while impaired.

I shudder to think how the forthcoming legalization of marijuana issue is going to further exacerbate this problem.

Commissioner (Ret.) Chris Lewis was a member of the Ontario Provincial Police for 36 years, serving across Ontario in a variety of operational and command roles. He continues to consult, write and lecture on policing and leadership issues. He can be reached at: www.lighthouseleadershipservices.com.

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