Off-duty NYPD detective fails sobriety test

July 15, 2008 2:06:10 PM PDT
An off-duty police detective has failed a required sobriety test after wounding an armed suspect, leading a union official to suggest that officers will think twice about stepping in when they're off the job. The incident early Sunday was the first time an officer failed a Breathalyzer test since a rule took effect last September. The test - the same one used in drunken-driving stops - is now administered to any officer who kills or wounds someone. Previously, a senior officer at the scene would determine whether those involved seemed sober.

In this case, the detective's blood alcohol content was .09, and the legal limit is .08, authorities said Tuesday.

Police officials said the shooting appeared to be justified because the officer faced an imminent threat.

"The fact that alcohol may have been consumed off duty doesn't necessarily mean that a shooting was outside of department guidelines," said chief police spokesman Paul Browne.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contends the new rule is excessive.

"Among its problems is that it fails to take real-life police situations into account," said union president Patrick Lynch. "It sends a message to off-duty officers not to get involved in crime-fighting and prevention. It can make them hesitate to use their weapons even when quick action is called for."

The veteran detective, whose name was not released, was placed on modified duty while the case is reviewed.

The 22-year-old suspect remained hospitalized on Tuesday and faced charges of attempted murder. Two others were charged with gang assault.

Officers aren't required to carry weapons while they're off duty, but most do.

Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the prospect of a sobriety test probably won't affect how police behave off the clock.

"Being a cop is a way of life, and policing is about the use of force whether we like it or not," said Haberfeld. "It would be like asking a medical doctor to look away if there are things happening outside of a hospital. There's a dedication to the job that you just can't confine to business hours."

The Breathalyzer rule stemmed from an internal NYPD review of undercover work after the police killing of an unarmed man on his wedding day.

The union, which represents 23,000 officers, argues in a federal lawsuit that the rule is flawed and violates officers' protection against unreasonable government searches.

But Haberfeld said the test will likely work to benefit officers. "It provides a validation, and puts an end to any speculation for the majority of cases," she said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it appeared the detective did the right thing.

"He was off duty, he was enjoying himself - he has a right to do that, off duty police officers have the right to carry weapons. He, by accident, saw something where people's lives were threatened and he took appropriate action to stop that," Bloomberg said.