This post was originally published on May 4, 2016.
It’s a commonly held belief that certain people get special privileges in life just because of who they are. Professional athletes don’t pay for clothes, celebrities don’t wait in line and cops don’t get arrested. These are seemingly unfair but obvious perks of certain jobs. I have always thought that if you are willing to go through what it takes to become an NBA player, you should be entitled to a free suit from Sean John. But when Vice reported that the Toronto Police Department is on a “slow march” toward prosecuting officers with DUIs, it begged the question: should some sort of professional courtesy be extended to cops who drink and drive?
Paid to Be Under a Microscope
Before you entertain that thought, let me give you the answer: no. There is not any scenario in which it’s okay for anyone to put innocent lives in danger by getting behind the wheel intoxicated. However, the plea of this article seems to be that, when it comes to breaking the law, police officers should be under a more stringent microscope than regular people. Why—because they are supposed to be enforcing the law? While the irony of a cop getting busted for drunk driving is not lost on me, I also don’t think that becoming a police officer should make a person lose their lifetime license to be human.
For example, how many parents do you know who want their child to start smoking pot? Hopefully none. But how many parents do you know who smoke pot themselves? If you don’t know any, you’ll just have to trust me on this one—there are tons. Is this paradox a crime against humanity? No. It is humanity. Just because parents want to protect their kids from the harmful possibilities of drug use doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy being adults with free will. Just because someone smokes pot on their own time shouldn’t mean they don’t get to tell their kids not to use drugs. In the same respect, just because someone is paid to enforce the law doesn’t mean that person should be held to a higher standard if they break it.
Equality in the Eyes of the Law
Don’t get it twisted; I am not lobbying for favoritism when it comes to police officers committing crimes. I am just as strongly opposed to the pendulum swinging in the other direction—like taking punishment from 20 days of unpaid leave (aka a slap on the wrist) to a rank demotion and salary cut (which was proposed at a hearing last month).
If an accountant gets arrested for drinking and driving, chances are, they will get a lawyer and go to court but it won’t have any affect their job (except maybe how they get there). The same goes for a television writer, Starbucks barista, computer software engineer and just about anyone whose job doesn’t involve driving. So with the option of “desk duty,” why should a police officer’s livelihood take a hit for something they did on their own time? If they get caught breaking the law they should face the exact same punishment as anyone else.
But What Will the Neighbors Think?
I know there is another side to this coin and that’s public perception. People making decisions about these things have to take into account “how it looks” when a cop gets a DUI. But this is where I think we have it wrong. How can the judicial system justify showing leniency to first-offense civilians struggling with addiction yet bring the hammer down on one of their own? In essence, if an employer cares about its employee (or at least wants to appear to care) then an off-the-clock DUI should be looked as a health problem and treated accordingly. Habitual offenders aside, if it’s illegal for your boss to fire you for having cancer, then why should a person be demoted for having a drinking problem?
If we are hoping to change the stigma about addiction then we need to look at all angles. We don’t want to shame people for having a disease, yet there are countless nuanced contradictions like this that many of us still stand behind. Professional athletes are rich as hell and should pay for the right to drink tap water just because they can. Celebrities have a staff of helpers to take care of life’s minutia, so they have more time than anyone to wait in line. Just because things make sense logically doesn’t mean they are ever going to happen realistically. Police officers are just people, like you and me, who may have made a poor decision one night (like you and I) and should be extended the professional courtesy to be human.