Ocean City is right to pursue a zero-tolerance approach to the issue of off-duty police officers carrying a gun and having a drink or two.
The issue surfaced back in January as part of a number of General Orders that must meet the Mayor and Council’s approval. On most occasions, these rule changes sweep through City Hall with to no fanfare because they are boring. Typically, most on the council have little to nothing to say about these alterations in police code.
This particular General Order is the exception. Section 200-B2 deals with off-duty police officers’ intervention in the field and how many drinks are acceptable while carrying a firearm.
The council at the time singled out this measure for debate and it was eventually remanded to the Police Commission for further discussion. After a couple meetings on the topic, a zero-tolerance approach was adopted as the prevailing opinion among the commission members. The police department supports permitting off-duty cops to carry a gun so long as their blood-alcohol concentration does not exceed .04, which other agencies consider as their threshold.
The General Order reads, “An officer should avoid carrying a firearm off-duty when he/she intends to consume alcoholic beverages. In the event an officer does consume alcoholic beverages, he/she shall not carry a firearm off-duty when his/her alcohol concentration is a .04 BrAC or higher.”
Councilman Doug Cymek has led the charge to eliminate the .04 clause altogether. In an interview with this paper last month, Chief Bernadette DiPino did not persuade Cymek or other council members and may have even hurt her cause. “My concern is that if we instill a zero-tolerance policy and we have a situation that needs police presence, I might call an officer and they could tell me that they couldn’t come in because they just took a sip of beer. It could cause serious staffing and management issues for the force, and concerns about public safety,” the chief said.
Zero tolerance is appropriate stance here. Using DiPino’s example, if a matter was so grave that off-duty cops needed to be called in and a couple of these men or women had been drinking, there are plenty of other officers available to pick up the slack. It’s worth pointing out rarely do off-duty cops need to be called while not on the clock to assist in police work. Even in the extreme situation more manpower was needed, we find it hard to believe there would be a dearth of officers available to assist.
This issue is not a complicated matter. Alcohol and guns do not mix. That’s obvious, but it has been mentioned previously that an off-duty officer should be able to have a glass of wine at dinner and carry his or her gun. Under this scenario, if the off-duty officer spots something awry, like a burglary or assault, he or she can take preventative and immediate action.
We do not think under any circumstances that alcohol should mix with guns, no matter how responsible or trained an individual may be. Alcohol is the proverbial ‘x’ factor, affecting different people in unique ways. Eliminating the option for cops to carry guns in their pleasure time when alcohol is in the picture is wise, and the entire council should approve the police commission’s recommendation.