Favored Treatment: It’s Not Just For Killing (Update)

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.

But this does nothing to explain wife-beaters and drunks.  None of the pat excuses culled from the media relations talking points explain why a drunk cop in a car gets a pass.

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.

8 thoughts on “Favored Treatment: It’s Not Just For Killing (Update)

  1. morgan sheridan

    I have a friendship of 47 years with a former gun shop employee whose customer base was predominantly local police SWAT members, sheriffs and state police. The only challenging aspect to that friendship is her willingness to give drunk cops and cops who are domestic abusers a pass. She thinks it is a travesty that the “Lautenberg amendment” was passed and that it make us less safe.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve added in a link to your comment for those unfamiliar with the Lautenberg Amendment. It’s my view that the amendment does not apply to state and local police officers, whose authority stems from state law and is not susceptible to federal regulation based on the commerce clause.

      More to the point, if someone has been convicted of a crime of violence, they should not be cops. The Lautenberg Amendment disturbs me in many ways, notably because it singles out domestic violence as somehow more nefarious than any other violence.

    2. ExCop-LawStudent

      I’m not real keen on the Lautenberg amendment either, but that really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with officers giving other officers a pass.

      Sure, some officers will throw that out there, but that is not the real issue, the real issue is not crossing the brotherhood.

      I never wrote another officer a citation, although I did take a rookie to jail for DWI (after he had been given a chance to call or wait for a ride and was warned not to drive). I could justify to myself not issuing the ticket, but I could not on a crime that was a class B misdemeanor or higher. Thankfully, that was the only one I ran across.

      The problem is that police administrators and those who supervise them do not hold police officers accountable any more. Until the public holds politicians responsible and kicks them out of office, it will not change.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Voting the ultimate form of professional courtesy? That concept gives me nearly as warm and fuzzy a feeling as saying super supervisors supervising administrators ardently assisting accountable amnesia.

        1. ExCop-LawStudent

          No, but until you make it uncomfortable for politicians to maintain the status quo, they typically won’t act on misconduct, and professional courtesy is misconduct. Particularly at the non-traffic violation level, as Scott has noted.

          We don’t need violent officers and we don’t need drunk drivers as officers. But you are not going to correct that problem by moaning about it and singing kumbyla, you have to take some form of action that will work, and what has been tried so far hasn’t worked.

          1. morgan sheridan

            It is damnably difficult to hold politicians to their word when it comes to taking a unified stand against domestic violance, drunkenness, or other bad conduct on the part of the police. They’re terrified of losing the support of the police union and therefore losing the police vote.

  2. Wrongway

    Ok, after reading this the 1st thing I wanted to do was say link to “this-thing”, & then “that-thing”, oh & lets not forget “this-one-over-here”.. but thanx to your Post about focusing on the issue.. I had to stop & wait a few hours, & mull it over in my head.. (mullet on my head..sry..).

    what I’m noticing is that the protest are being label as “X+Y=Z” by any & all who are in the Main Media.. but that’s not what I’m hearing from the people I deal with on a daily basis.. A black guy at work told me today as we talked about the Garner Video, “if you or I did that to someone on camera, there’d be no grand jury.. we’d be under the jail & there’d be press conferences on every channel telling everyone what a shitty person we were.. there’d be no hesitation in anyway to charge You or I with Murder..(he’s in a union where he works..), my Union wouldn’t stand up & say he was just tryin to protect himself & others so he could go home to his family.. they’d say ‘bury this sumbitch ! ! did ya see what he did ??!!??’ ..
    I mean WTF..”

    He & I brought up several examples of Govt. employees gettin a pass for breaking the law.. & how if you’re speeding or jaywalking or late returning library books, you’re “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law..”
    Even filming cops now lands you in jail, after a federal judge says to stop it.. & they suffer no sanctions of anykind..

    your post here hits on the very tip of the anger & frustration that ordinary folks are feeling..

    & I personally believe, this fuels most of the protestors, as well as the media’s goal to ‘label’ it as anything but..

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