While the controversy swirls around whether a police officer committed homicide or, because it’s such a hard job, just made a testosterone-fueled miscalculation when he shot somebody, the question of systemic favoritism toward police gets caught up in the details. After all, cops aren’t perfect, and they aren’t on a suicide mission, the First Rule of Policing notwithstanding. They can be both reasonable and wrong.
The second time he was arrested — after he was found passed out in his car with the engine running in September 2012, a half-empty can of Coors Light lying on the floor — he was a state trooper, charged with keeping the roads safe from drunk drivers.
Simpkins, 41, admitted that he started drinking beer after a softball tournament, went to a bar and drank some more, then went to another tavern and kept drinking before heading to the Wendy’s in Stoughton, where he was found asleep at the wheel, according to the arrest report.
He was so groggy that when a state trooper asked him for his driver’s license, he handed over his Visa card instead.
It might be pretty funny, but for the fact that this trooper stayed on the job, despite his loss of license for refusal to blow, at about $130,000 a year. And he beat the charge. No, most jobs aren’t quite that accommodating.
Simpkins is one of at least 30 Massachusetts law enforcement officials who have been charged with drunken driving while off-duty since the start of 2012, a Globe review has found. The crashes collectively killed three people and injured more than a half-dozen others.
The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” Massachusetts police departments have launched internal reviews at least four times in the last three years after learning that an officer or former officer was accused of drunken driving but was not arrested.
Three people killed. A half-dozen more injured. Dying at the hands of a drunk driver lacks the sexiness to make it onto prime time, get college students marching or raise the fury of pundits nationwide, but these people are every bit as dead, every bit as hurt, as if they were mowed down in the street.
We often pigeonhole death into things we can accept and things we can’t. We get that people die in car crashes all the time, so they don’t seem to register well on our outrage meter. I mean, stercus accidit, right?
Yet dead is dead. The victims of drunken cops leave behind children, spouses, who loved them and depended on them. They may have rap sheets, had anybody needed to smear them so their demise in a fiery crash because a cop was soused, but even guys with rap sheets ought to be allowed to survive a drunken cop in a car.
While we can conceive of explanations why prosecutors, presenting “their case” to a grand jury by being “fair” and “transparent” in including every scintilla of exculpatory evidence that may back a cop’s judgment, not to mention beat the daylights out of the witnesses against the cop while coddling the cop by lobbing softballs, offering excuses for inconsistencies and giving the cop the occasional tummy rub to soothe his hurt at having to merely face accountability, what excuse is there for the drunk cop on the road?
But instead of giving him sobriety tests, Lowell police dropped Robitaille off at a McDonald’s and arranged for an off-duty Andover officer to give Robitaille a ride home, according to court documents.
“It’s the ultimate professional courtesy,” said Bowling Green State University criminologist Phil Stinson, who conducted the national study of police arrests and suspects such incidents are frequent.
Having had this very discussion with some cop friends, they’ve explained, in complete earnestness, that this is a perk of the job. A very hard, wearing, difficult job, that drives some cops to drink too much and behave, well, poorly. Their fellow officers cover for them, not because what they did isn’t wrong, but because they are brothers. Brothers don’t burn brothers. Especially blue brothers.
There is no argument to be had that drunk cops who kill in cars are somehow entitled to a free pass. About the best argument to be mustered is that the job is so hard that cops fall into despair and drink themselves to someone else’s death. It doesn’t cut it, and never will.
But if you’re inclined to deny that cops who shoot a person receive special treatment at the hands of fellow cops and prosecutors, and even the occasional winking judge who realizes that he’s one of the inside gang who gets that extra little bit of empathy saved up for a rainy day, think about the drunk cop. Or the wife-beating cop. Then admit it, the system treats cops differently.
H/T Mike Paar
Update: Thanks to Jill McMahon, here’s an Albany Times-Union article about how the Police Union president and another union member were allowed to be present and counsel off-duty cop Brian Lutz, arrested for DWI. And of course, he was told not to blow.