This time of year, it is inevitable that an officer or two get in trouble for off-duty conduct. Sometimes the off-duty conduct leads to significant disciplinary action. The FOP will be there for you, as always, but, generally speaking, it is easy to avoid the off-duty behavior that comes to the attention of the Public Integrity Bureau, or Internal Affairs as the case may be.
The vast majority of discipline related to off-duty conduct is related to sex or the use of alcohol.
As police officers, you see it every single day. People who have been drinking make poor decisions. I’m just going to go ahead and say the obvious – Police Officers who have been drinking make poor decisions too. You may be able to get some professional courtesy on a regular traffic stop (and you might not – some officers are real nervous with a BWC and an ICC recording their every word and move), but if you are involved in an accident, the officer may not have any choice but to take action. A close relative of mine was stopped by an officer who used to be one of my subordinates. We did not have a contentious relationship and I helped him out quite a bit. I was surprised to learn that particular officer had arrested someone he knew to be a close relative of mine when he could have just as easily given him a ride home. My relative had not been involved in an accident or anything like that, it was a simple traffic stop. The point is that today’s political atmosphere makes it less likely that officers exercise any type of discretion.
It’s not just driving either. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start an argument with the guy sitting on the barstool next to his. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start a fight with an ex-husband. Did you know it is legal for an officer to carry a concealed firearm in an alcoholic beverage outlet? La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows it, as does the federal laws known as LEOSA. If, however, you think it is a good idea to carry a concealed weapon in a barroom, I would have to ask you if you are drinking while reading this. Just don’t do it. Just FYI, you are not covered by LEOSA if you are intoxicated. Also, for the New Orleans Police Department, Rule 3, Professional Conduct, Paragraph 9, Use of Alcohol/Drugs Off Duty, says that commissioned personnel are forbidden from carrying firearms in an ABO, while consuming alcohol, or while intoxicated. Part of that rule may still violate LEOSA, but La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows the Superintendent to make it a violation of Department rules to carry a firearm in an ABO.
Sex is the next source of off-duty disciplinary action. It is not a good idea to hook up with people you meet on calls for service. It does not matter if they are the complainant or the subject of the complaint.
If you come across someone who looks like they could use a ride home, make sure it is to their home and not yours. Make sure the dispatcher knows about it and that all of the transport mileages are recorded. Finally, make sure all of the recording devices you carry around these days are activated.
There are also police officers involved in abusive relationships. Now, I understand this is not as simple as just saying “don’t do it.” I would, however, like to encourage any officer involved in an abusive relationship to seek help. At the New Orleans Police Department, Cecile Tebo is available at no cost through the Office Assistance Program to help however she can. No matter where you are or what department you work for, there is help available somewhere. Take advantage of that help before you lose your job over it.
The standard, as is always the case, is that the alleged infraction must bear a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the public service. The Courts in Louisiana have applied that rule fairly liberally. That means that if your Department believes there is a real and substantial relationship between the alleged dereliction and the efficient operation of the public service, the Courts are likely to go along with that.
As we are recently reminded by the Louisiana Supreme Court, neither the Commission nor a reviewing court should “second-guess” an appointing authority’s decisions. See Lange v. Orleans Levee District, 10–0140, p. 17 (La.11/30/10), 56 So.3d 925, 936. The Commission and a reviewing court may intervene only when the appointing authority’s decisions are arbitrary and capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion. Id. Moreover, neither the Commission nor the reviewing court may serve as a de facto pardon board. Id. “[S]ympathy is not a legal standard.” Id.Chinh Nguyen v. Dep’t of Police, 2011-0570 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11), 72 So. 3d 939, 944.