Washington Police Get Light Punishment for DUI

Police officers in the state of Washington appear to take care of their own. An investigation conducted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows that when police officers are suspected of drunk driving, they receive special treatment and lighter punishments than the general public.

Ninety-two police officers have been arrested for Washington DUI over the past seven years. They caused fourteen vehicular crashes, four of which were in state issued vehicles. After the newspaper reviewed internal discipline records, arrest reports, accident reports, license-suspension files and court documents of incidents involving police officers arrested for drunk driving however, they discovered some alarming results. Five officers who had registered a blood alcohol content above the legal limit were never prosecuted. A nearly equal number did not lose their driver’s licenses because fellow officers did not file required paperwork within certain timeframe. Others merely lost vacation days.

When Seattle Police Officer Kevin Williams rolled his vehicle on the interstate highway, he lost five vacation days. Tacoma Police Officer Gurdial Garcha crashed into a telephone pole with a BAC more than five times the legal limit, and he was suspended for two days and lost two vacation days. Maria ‘Susan’ DiTusa crashed a department-owned vehicle into the wall of a tunnel. She identified herself to officers on the scene as a Seattle police detective. A breath test that showed a BAC of 0.137%, but since preliminary tests are not admissible in court and she refused a blood test, her penalty was only losing five vacation days.

Average citizens who took and failed a breath test were more than twice as likely to lose their driver’s licenses than intoxicated police officers. Of those who refused a breath test, over 94% of motorists suspected of drunk driving had their licenses suspended, compared with only 25% of police officers in the same situation. In an apparent double standard, a motorist with a BAC of 0.10 who ran a red light and crashed into a police officer who had a BAC over 0.12 was prosecuted for drunk driving, while the officer was not.

Favoritism between officers was discovered in several instances, including direct requests for breaks, invocations of ‘professional courtesy’, and even threats against officers who attempted to arrest a fellow law enforcement agent. One taped his police identity card to his license as a precaution.

A few law enforcement agencies do have strict penalties for officers charged with DUI, feeling that any favoritism reduces their credibility with the general public. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer findings however, show disciplinary system that is “broken, illogical and unevenly applied.”

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