“The Era of Professional Courtesy is Over”

Seventy employees of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were arrested for alcohol-related crimes last year, nearly three times the number arrested five years ago, a report from a county watchdog agency has found.

Most of the arrests were for off-duty drunken driving by deputies, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the county's Office of Independent Review.

Michael Gennaco, the head of the agency, said the number represents a major upswing, and the number of arrests so far in 2009 are as high as those in 2008.

Part of the change can be explained by new attitudes among other law enforcement officers who once looked the other way when deputies were caught driving drunk.

"The era of professional courtesy is over," Gennaco said. "In the old days officers from other departments would stop a drunk deputy's car and as courtesy drive them home. That has gone away, and I am not sure all deputies understand that."

After a series of well-publicized incidents of drunk deputies firing their guns, including one in which an off-duty deputy who drank heavily at a New Year's party shot his cousin in the stomach while only intending to show off his new holster, Sheriff Lee Baca has sought to bar department employees from carrying weapons when drinking.

The policy would be among the nation's most restrictive, forbidding Sheriff's Department employees to carry or handle weapons if they have used alcohol, medications or controlled substances to the point where they are "unable to exercise reasonable care and control of the firearm."

Unions have opposed the policy, saying it would put deputies in danger. The policy is currently with the county's employee relations commission.

Baca's move and other recent steps from the department represent a new openness to talking about alcohol abuse.

Gennaco said Undersheriff Larry Waldie now e-mails employees with descriptions of the conduct of deputies who are arrested.

In one recent e-mail Waldie revealed the arrest of a nine-year veteran who had crashed while driving under the influence, and included details of what he called a "long tirade of verbal abuse and profanity toward police officers," the report said.

The deputy was vomiting at the scene and police worried he might have alcohol poisoning, the report said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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