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Officer had no right to declare that he was too drunk to work

March 2nd, 2017  |  David Stephanides

Police department rules included both call-outs and mandates. A call-out occurs when off-duty officers are called to duty, typically to meet some temporary emergency requiring extra manpower. A mandate occurs to fill an opening, such as when an officer is unable to work a particular shift. The rules also permit officers to self-report to the dispatcher their use of alcohol before a call-out and be excused from the call-out (City of Sparta, Illinois and Policeman’s Benevolent Labor Committee/PBPA Labor Organization. Sep. 27, 2016. Gregory P. Szuter).

One Sunday, an officer called in to say that he could not report to his 7 pm to 7 am shift because his camper broke down and he was stranded. Under department rules, the least senior officer from the prior shift was mandated to cover the first half of the shift and the least senior officer from the succeeding shift was mandated to cover the second half. Thus, one officer was told that he would remain on duty from 7 pm until 1 am. Efforts to reach by telephone the least senior member of the succeeding shift to tell him that he should report at 1 am, however, failed. An officer, who was dispatched to the least senior officer’s home at 4 pm to inform him of the shift change, reported that the officer would not be starting his shift at 1 am because said that he was too drunk to report to work. The officer who delivered the message reported that the other officer was sitting in his backyard reading a book and did not appear overly drunk to him. The police department suspended him without pay for 30 days, and he filed a grievance.

In an insubordination case, the employee is obligated to “obey now and grieve later.” Thus, the officer should have reported to work, raised the issue of sobriety at that point, and let the chief decide what to do. The arbitrator also rejected the officer’s affirmative defense that he was too drunk to report. The question was not whether he was too drunk at 4 pm but rather he was too drunk at 1 am. The arbitrator noted that a person could eliminate a significant amount of blood alcohol content in the nine hours between 4 pm on Sunday afternoon and 1 am on Monday. Although the officer’s blood alcohol level was never determined, the arbitrator concluded, by applying the other officer’s description of him, that the drunk officer probably could have sobered up by 1 am. In the end, the decision was not the officer’s to make. His decision not to appear constituted insubordination.

As for mitigating factors, the officer had long seniority and had received commendations for his work after this incident occurred. He also, however, had received 15 additional occurrences of discipline since the incident, a shockingly large number in less than a year. Thus, nothing existed to mitigate the penalty. The suspension was appropriate and was reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense. The arbitrator denied the grievance.

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