Prompted by a report that revealed some Chicago-area police departments allow their officers to have alcohol in their systems, Secretary of State Jesse White said Friday he will push for a new law requiring zero tolerance alcohol policies for Illinois public safety employees.
"It’s a violation of all the laws of human decency as far as I can see," said White, referring to the NBC5Investigates / Better Government Association report which showed that some departments have defined in their union contracts exactly how much alcohol is tolerated before an officer will be disciplined.
Suburbs like Westchester, Forest Park, Glendale Heights, and South Barrington have set that level at .05. Westchester’s Mayor Sam Pulia said he tried in vain to stop his community from ratifying the union contract with what he deemed a dangerously high alcohol policy.
"I worry about it every day," Pulia said. "I still believe, and maybe some don’t, that police officers are held to a higher standard."
In Oak Park and Elmwood Park, the designated alcohol number is .08, the state’s definition of legally drunk (Officials in those communities insist they would seek to punish any officers who show up with booze in their systems at any level).
"We believe the safety of the officer may be in jeopardy, the public as well," White said. "It’s kind of tough for you to pull a person over and administer a breathalyzer test if you have alcohol in your system."
White’s office issues driver’s licenses and license plates, and he has long been involved in anti-drunk driving efforts.
"This is a good thing," said Bob Reed, the BGA’s chief of investigations. "I think Illinois could actually be a model for legislation in other states."
The matter isn’t easy. A uniform policy will mean policy changes for many departments which can ill afford to suspend officers from what are often shorthanded departments. And in most cases, the liberal alcohol limits are spelled out in collective bargaining agreements.
Still, White said he believed a zero-tolerance policy was needed, as was mandated for school bus drivers in Illinois many years ago.
"We have a policy that it’s zero tolerance for these people who transport our future leaders from point A to point B," White said. "When it comes to your law enforcement officer, I just don’t think we should allow them to have alcohol in their system."