Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Policy Vague on Drinking and Driving Police Vehicles off Duty (Copy)

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Policy Vague on Drinking and Driving Police Vehicles off Duty (Copy)

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Almost every Thursday after work, interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole drives his department-issued SUV to Failoni's, a favorite local restaurant on Manchester Avenue, for pizza and beer.

It's a long-standing ritual, he says.

And it's one that points to a gap in city policies.

Police officials with the rank of captain and above are allowed to drive their take-home vehicles for personal use. But department policy is silent on the issue of drinking and driving a police car while off duty.

City rules regarding city-owned vehicles prohibit police, firefighters, corrections officers, park rangers and deputy marshals from consuming alcohol "while operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery," whether on or off duty.

The term "while" needs to be clarified, city personnel director Richard Frank said.

"Commanders are on call 24/7 and we're also human and we've got to eat dinner, and I'm not going to say I haven't had a few beers," O'Toole said.

"... But if that's a concern of the personnel director, and we need to tighten a policy, then that's what we'll have to do."

St. Louis County faced this issue in 2012, when a driver who had been ticketed for speeding later saw the arresting officer drinking beer and getting behind the wheel of his take-home patrol car. He videotaped the officer at a mixed martial arts event in Fenton that they both happened to attend after the speeding incident and then filed a complaint with St. Louis County police.

The incident spurred then-Police Chief Tim Fitch to revise the county's take-home car policy forbidding driving under the influence to define it as a blood alcohol level of 0.04 percent or greater, in accordance with pilot and commercial truck driver standards.

The only mention of blood-alcohol levels in city policies refers to the 0.02 percent level that on-duty officers are allowed, which provides a cushion to those who may have been drinking long before reporting for duty.

Frank said this week that he planned to meet with the city's interim public safety director to amend the department's take-home car policy and ban the practice. …

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