Alcohol And Police Misconduct: View From A Lawyer And Officer
11:16 AM EDT, May 9, 2011
Kyle Macci, a lawyer who frequently represents police in Connecticut, talked with The Courant about the connection between alcohol, stress and police misconduct. Macci also works as a New Britain police officer; to comply with his department's regulations, he declined to discuss anything about specific incidents or individual police agencies.
Q. Why are we seeing so many cases lately about police misconduct involving alcohol?
I believe policing has changed drastically since the days our parents taught us to respect the police. These changes, unfortunately, had numerous unintended consequences which created stressors today's police now face. I believe policing is a much more sophisticated occupation requiring a greater attention to detail and a higher level of skill.
We, today, as officers are required to master a sea of always-changing case law, taken from intricate legal decisions and sometimes — with only seconds to react — be able to apply them during dynamic events we encounter on the street. What that translates to is that it is easy to make a mistake.
If an officer gets into trouble while off duty, he or she may lose their income which supports their family. If a civilian gets into trouble, more often than not, it has no effect on their income. Let's not forget also that this year has been one of the deadliest for Connecticut's police officers in terms of in- the-line-of-duty deaths.
Because we see bad things, such as untimely deaths, happening to our colleagues, we end up having a very intimate understanding of our own mortality, which is always on the forefront of our minds.
Are events more frequent, or are more just coming to light?
I believe it's both. As we progress in society, there is a higher level of accountability and scrutiny of authority, and I agree with the necessity for that. But I also believe what is often called "the job of policing" has changed so much that it cannot be considered as "a job."
If it's getting worse, why?
The stresses of policing are increasing exponentially. While that is happening, there are very few, if any, mechanisms where a troubled officer can go to get help.
I hear about the availability and open door policy of the Officer Employee Assistance Program. However, officers are required, before any conversation takes place, to sign consent forms granting the EAP permission to release the details of what is said to the officers' department. Officers who need help, whether it's for a small issue or a more pressing one, require confidentiality to have a frank discussion and get help. There is a perception that this confidentiality and trust simply does not exist now.
What can communities and police administrators do to help prevent it?
There is no doubt that we expect to hold Connecticut's law enforcement to a higher standard. But, we as a community have to understand that we do not want robots policing our neighborhood, we want human beings, human beings who have the capability to use discretion and have compassion when dealing with the public. Unfortunately, with that comes the imperfections of human nature.
We, as humans, all make mistakes, regardless of occupation. In light of the recent media coverage of police and alcoholism, that's what I think Connecticut is starting to understand now. I believe if we can find a proper way to deal with law enforcement stress, we can significantly reduce the substance abuse issues surrounding some of our police officers.
I believe a law enforcement [employee assistance] program that is guaranteed to be strictly confidential, with no relationship to police administrators, would be better accepted and more often utilized by officers in need of help.
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