It may sound crazy today, but there was once a time when Sheriff Andy would put Otis, the town drunk, into a cell to sleep it off. Then send him on his way. Drinking alcohol may not have been a source of great pride, but it was something regular folks did. And sometimes, they drove after a few beers. And sometimes, they were stopped by a cop.
It was hardly unusual, back then, when a drunk driver was stopped that a police officer would take the driver home to sleep it off. That was before MADD and SADD made drunk driving so BADD that it was tantamount to murder. This isn’t to suggest that drunk driving is no big deal, or should have been treated so lightly, but that it didn’t carry the stigma of venality that it does today.
These were otherwise ordinary people who just had one (or ten) too many. Sober, they were law abiding, productive members of society, with families and mortgages, jobs and lawns to mow. They were us. Just too drunk to drive.
Those days are long gone, and perhaps rightly so, although the vilification of drunk drivers emphasizes only the harm they could potentially cause, while ignoring the fact that pretty much anybody could turn from good neighbor to public enemy in an evening without any intention of harming anyone.
And when we say anybody, that includes a guy like 28-year-old William Monberg.
It would have been a fairly routine DUI bust, with the exception of his penis stick protruding from his pants, never a pleasant sight. He was asleep at the wheel, which can happen when you’re totally shitfaced. And to their credit, the Blaine police officers who responded to the call handled it appropriately. That is, until they checked the drunk’s wallet.
“Oh crap!” one of them exclaims.
Then, without saying a word, both pull out and turn off their body microphones and step out of view of the patrol car cameras.
In the back seat of the squad car, though, another police camera is still recording video and audio of what happened next.
The video shows William Monberg, already handcuffed and under arrest, being let out of the car. Moments later he climbs back in. The handcuffs have been removed. And, instead of taking him to jail, the Blaine police officers can be heard trying to arrange a ride home for him.
Turns out, the man they originally arrested is not an ordinary citizen. He, too, wears a badge.
You? Busted. Them? Professional courtesy. Or as any honest police officer will admit, cops don’t write cops. At the upper echelon of police administration, the reality of professional courtesy is frowned upon.
William Monberg is an investigator for the Columbia Heights Police Department. “I don’t condone their behavior,” said Duane Wolfe. “I wish they’d made a different decision, but cops are human.”
In police circles, Wolfe says the notion that cops shouldn’t ticket other cops is contentious and fiercely debated. “A lot of police officers feel that pressure to take care of their brethren,” he said.
And what do cops think about it?
He also writes for PoliceOne.com, a popular police blog. In 2009, he wrote an article about so-called “Professional Courtesy,” arguing that the badge shouldn’t be a “get out of jail free card.”
Wolfe says that article sparked more comments than any other he has even written, many of them critical.
But Wolfe argues that officers giving other officers special treatment “doesn’t serve the profession, doesn’t serve the department and quite honestly it doesn’t serve the officer.” He adds, “They just get the attitude that there are no consequences for my actions.”
And indeed, there is no shortage of examples of police officers engaged in the same conduct for which they would self-righteously explain that you deserve arrest, while they, their brothers in blue, deserve a little courtesy.
In this instance, Monberg offered what appears to be a sincere apology for his conduct:
I am profoundly ashamed, embarrassed, and disappointed in myself for the incident that occurred on November 7, 2015. I extend my most genuine apologies to my agency and community, the Blaine Police Department, and the officers who were placed in an incredibly difficult position because of my actions. I accept full responsibility for those actions but insist they do not represent an accurate reflection of my personal or professional character. I have been working diligently over the past four months to ensure that a similar situation will not occur again.
And the chief of the Blaine Police Department refused to let this slide, after the video went public.
The cover-up of the incident almost worked.
However a month later, Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson assigned an investigator to look into what happened that night. As a result, Officer Monberg was officially charged with DWI in December.
Chief Olson would not do an on-camera interview, citing the pending DWI case. But he told KARE 11, “In this case inexperienced officers made a mistake. It’s not acceptable.”
“My expectation is fair and impartial policing and that didn’t happen,” he continued. “We need to treat people fairly and it shouldn’t matter what they do for a living.”
What will become of Monberg, and the officers who cut him a break? The system will do what it does. That Monberg wasn’t entitled to special treatment because he was a fellow cop is obvious; that no one would have known but for the errant mistake of leaving the camera and microphone on inside the cruiser shows the value of video. That reporters found it, and recognized that they stumbled on a serious concern, is fortunate.
But should Monberg’s drunken escapade be the end of his cop career? Given how society has been taught to hate drunk driving and their friends and neighbors who get pinched for it, it would be wrong to put a potential murderer back on the street with a gun and shield. While we can find grave fault in giving a brother cop a free pass, was the underlying offense any different than Mayberry’s poor Otis? Then again, Otis was never behind the wheel.