2008-07-25 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Of Cops Who Drink And Drugged-Out Gunmen
By Howard Schwach

It all depends on what we expect of our police officers.

I suppose the department could impose restrictions on its officers, something like, "If you're going to drink, don't carry a weapon."

On the face of it, that sounds reasonable, but it really is not.

Police officers are expected to uphold the law, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Because of that fact, they are expected to carry their weapons even when off-duty, because if they see a crime being committed, they are expected to take action, both by the department and the community.

In addition, most cops have made enemies of the worst of our society, the drugged-out gunmen, the gang thugs and the killers.

Does society expect them to walk around without protection even though there is a reasonably good chance they will bump into one of those they have arrested, or hassled, or stopped and searched?

What happens when they do, and the thug is carrying a weapon, but the cop is not?

I shudder to think about it, especially since my son is a police lieutenant.

When he first went on the job, I regularly asked him if he was carrying a weapon when we went out together. I stopped doing that a long time ago, and I just assume that he is carrying his off-duty weapon.

Before moving on to the latest case of a police-involved shooting, I want to say something about undercover police officers drinking on duty.

Again, society expects that police will enter places such as bars and houses of prostitution in order to find the criminals and arrest them.

An undercover sitting in a bar must drink, or he will quickly be "made" as a cop and run out of town.

How much should he drink? Department regulations say that two drinks should be the maximum, but sometimes events require one or two more.

Do three drinks constitute drunkenness? Is an officer impaired after one or two drinks? Three?

As with the rest of us, that depends on the officer, whether or not he or she has eaten, what the drinks were, and a host of other variables.

The Daily News set up a hypothetical in an editorial last week. It is a realistic hypothetical.

"You're a cop. You're off duty and out having a good time with your friends. You've had a drink or two. Down the street, you spot some guy viciously beating up another guy, and you step in to put a stop to that. The thug pulls a piece and fires at you three times. You pull your own weapon and fire back and wing him. He flees. Later, he's arrested at the hospital. He's a career criminal, long rap sheet, a good man to get off the street. You've performed an excellent public service."

Ok, so it's not so hypothetical.

It happened to a 15-year veteran detective named Ivan Davidson just two weeks ago, and the thug whom he shot is a career criminal from Far Rockaway.

Under the new rules pushed by Congressman Greg Meeks and State Senator Malcolm Smith, both of whom represent Rockaway, officers in a police-involved shooting must be tested for alcohol after the shooting.

The new law, an outgrowth of the brouhaha following the Sean Bell shooting, requires the testing and seems to assume that any cop who had a few drinks prior to the shooting must be somehow flawed.

That is not necessarily so.

Davidson was put on modified duty. His weapon and shield were taken from him.

The press was predictably split. The New York Times thought that it was terrible that a cop who had a few drinks should attempt to take police action. They suggested that he should have called 911 instead. Of course, there probably would have been a dead man in the gutter by the time a patrol car responded, but that didn't seem to bother the Times much. The issue was the drunk cop, not the thug who was attempting to kill a citizen.

The Post, on the other hand, thought that Davidson should be given a medal.

Surprisingly, I agree with the Post on this issue.

Speaking to Andrea Peyser of the New York Post, one Brooklyn sergeant put the problem that arises from the incident in perspective.

"Every off duty cop is going to be afraid to pull a weapon to protect the public," he said. "People are going to get hurt. The only way that I would pull my gun now would be to protect my family. Everyone on the job is more cautious."

The sergeant added that the entire department is on edge because of the incident.

On the Monday following the incident, Police Commissioner Kelly reinstated Davidson.

"Detective Davidson did an outstanding job," Kelly said in a prepared statement. "He did everything that a police officer could do. We're proud of him."

He should be. He did what police officers are expected to do by the society that pays their salary.

Davidson, who had been out with friends, saw three men, including Rockaway resident Stephon Allston, kicking and punching another man outside a bar in Jamaica.

The detective identified himself as a police officer and tried to stop the beating.

Allston, however, pulled out a TEC-9 and fired three times at the cop, missing each time, police officials said.

The detective pulled his weapon and returned fire five times, hitting the thug in the leg and arm. Allston and his friends fled the scene.

Allstpm was captured hours later in the emergecny room of a Nassau County hospital where he had gone for treatment of his gunshot wounds. Officias say that the thought that he could escape the city's notice if he went to another county for his wounds.

Meanwhile, Davidson called 911 and reported the officer-involved shooting incident.

Under the new rules, he was immediately given a Breathalyzer test and blew .09, slightly over the .08 blood alcohol level that legally declares that the person is impaired.

Was Davidson legally drunk? Sure he was, at least by the legal definition of the word. Was he impaired? That is another story.

Should he have refrained from taking action because he had been drinking?

I don't believe so, and neither did Commissioner Kelly.

"Alcohol level is only one of the factors we take into consideration when making judgments on cases such as this," Kelly saidin his prepared statement reinstating the detective.

Finally, some rationality in the process.

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