A state board that licenses law enforcement officers has decided to make no changes in the way it handles off-duty cops caught driving under the influence.
Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board this month unanimously voted to keep with the practice of hearing cases when there is an extreme DUI – a blood alcohol concentration level of over .15 – or when there are aggravating circumstances involved, such as a crash.
In cases that come before it, the board can take no action, revoke or suspend an officer’s certification to work in the state.
“I actually thought it was going to be easy to put this thing in a rubric and make it work for all the different agencies, 159 agencies,” said board member and Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams at the board’s monthly meeting Sept. 15.
The 159 law enforcement agencies encompass over 14,500 sworn peace officers, 6,500 correctional officers and 16 police officer training academies.
Williams, who chaired the board’s DUI subcommittee tasked with studying and making a recommendation on the issue, said although not perfect, the .15 BAC at least gives a baseline for some consistency. For the general public, a driver with a BAC of .08 is considered legally impaired and would likely be arrested for a DUI.
The board in May formed the subcommittee of Williams and three other board members after concerns were raised over inconsistencies on cops’ off-duty DUI arrests are handled statewide.
Since 2015 the board has heard 59 off-duty DUI cases with punishment ranging from termination to suspension, according to Executive Director Matt Giordano.
“There hasn’t been complete consistency when you look at reporting to the Arizona Post,” Giordano said. “As you know the only cases that are required by statute to be reported to us is when someone terminates employment.
“So, someone gets an off-duty DUI, is retained by their agency then we might not be aware of the incident. So, it creates some of that disparity.”
Deputy Director Ken Hunter of the Arizona Department of Public Safety asked if the board hears extreme off-duty DUI cases whether an officer has been fired or not.
“Our direction to our partner agencies is report to us if you have an off-duty DUI, if the BAC is over a .15,” Giordano said. “Again, there’s nothing statutorily required of agencies to do that. We are getting a lot of those reports because a lot of them do result in termination – that is how they come to us. But we have gotten some where people haven’t been terminated but their BAC was over .15 and the cases come to us.”
Hunter said DPS for the last couple of years has enforced a no-tolerance DUI policy for troopers.
Hunter referenced the arrest in January of a DPS major caught speeding while intoxicated.
“All charges were dropped, nothing happened,” Hunter said. “We still terminated even though the county attorney didn’t want to prosecute.”
Hunter asked what will be the trigger point for a case to come before the board – an arrest, the BAC level or adjudication in criminal court.
Giordano said the BAC would be a trigger because the act still occurred even if an arrest ends up without a conviction.
Williams said she had discussed with Giordano earlier about having agencies report all off-duty DUIs but that because the 159 agencies are different in scale and size, it would be too arduous for smaller departments.
“If we have a zero-tolerance policy and it’s a very small agency, we could diminish their pool of individuals greatly,” she said.
In Phoenix, the standard discipline for DUIs is a suspension of 120 hours; if there are aggravating circumstances, it could be a 240-hour suspension or termination.
Jamie Kelly, a public member on the board, said her biggest concern was with consistency of board discipline and holding everyone to the same standard.
“Anecdotally, if we present a case to you for someone whose .15 or above, the board’s historically taken action,” Giordano said. “The ones that are below .15 that comes to us, that we are made aware of, we don’t even bring those to the board. We close them administratively. We don’t get a lot of those reported to us.”
The board’s position is to take no action for DUI arrests that are not extreme and when there are no extenuating circumstances.
Kelly asked if it was possible to require treatment or counseling.
Assistant Attorney General Mark Brachtl said the board is only authorized to suspend, revoke or take no action and that ordering probation or counseling is not provided it by law.
Kelly said a DUI could be an officer’s cry for assistance and support.
“They know we are not the parents of our officers,” she said. “But sometimes I wish we could step in and say, ‘hey, we know you are struggling, here are some other resources and help.’”
Williams said .15 thresholds works for the board because it creates some consistency around the state. And if spikes were to occur in the future, the board can rehear the issue.
“It’s not as clean and as easy as I was hoping it was going to be,” Williams said. “I was thinking, ‘OK we can have this one standard for the entire state and it’s going to work.’
“But we are so diverse agency-wise – truth be told trying to get staffing and keeping staffing in place when quite frankly if someone gets involves in one of these collisions, maybe that’s a cry for help and they need to get help and you fix them and then bring them back they become this productive person. So a little bit of grace I think is something we need to put in place, too.”
The board then dissolved the subcommittee.