Oak Park police claim BGA cop intoxication report is incomplete

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By Jean Lotus

Forest Park Review Editor

Are Oak Park and Forest Park police officers allowed to come to work "half-in-the-bag?"

A Feb. 14, Better Government Association of Illinois report titled "License to Swill" went viral last week, even popping up in British newspapers. The watchdog group claimed police union rules implied that officers from area police departments — including Westchester, Elmwood Park, South Barrington, Oak Park and Forest Park — could come to work intoxicated.

"Westchester [recently] adopted a union contract that allows rank-and-file cops to come to work with a blood-alcohol level up to and including 0.049 — meaning they're allowed to have a few pops before roving the streets, handling a gun and making arrests," the BGA report said.

According to the report, Forest Park union contracts states that officers were considered drunk if they registered a .05 BAC; Oak Park officers could register up to .079 before being considered intoxicated.

But Police officials in both departments complained that the BGA glossed over the truth.

"We have a specific policy that no officer can be intoxicated on the job, and in fact, they aren't allowed to drink eight hours before their shift," said Forest Park Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas.

According to Forest Park policies, employees are prohibited from "being under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the course of the work day." Aftanas said this amounts to "zero tolerance because any alcohol or drugs places an employee under the influence."

Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley also protested, insisting that the BGA misinterpreted the department's policies.

"BGA is not accurate," Tanksley said in an email. "Oak Park Police officers are expressly prohibited from being under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs while on duty."

Both towns maintain that their respective departments can test, via a breathalyzer, any employee suspected of being under the influence, according to department rules. If a Forest Park employee is found to have a .05 BAC (the official level for a DUI is .08), that individual is considered intoxicated.

Aftanas thinks this is where the Better Government Association got the idea that an officer could show up for work with a BAC of up to .049.

"We sent them our policies, I don't understand why it was misinterpreted," he said.

Tanksley noted that the report cited a reference to the .08 blood alcohol level in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Village of Oak Park and its police union. The BGA, Tanksley stressed, used that reference erroneously.

Neither sworn-in nor civilian employees in Oak Park, he insists, are allowed to have such a blood alcohol level and still be allowed to perform their duties, as the BGA suggests.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Tanksley said, noting that even the union recognizes that "a BAC below .08 may still qualify as under the influence."

"The department also recognizes that alcoholism is a disease," he added. "If the officer declares that they have a substance abuse problem, there are provisions in place for that officer to get the appropriate treatment."

Reader Comments

11 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Steve from Forest Park  

Posted: February 24th, 2013 5:59 PM

Ever look at the contracts and policies of fire departments and the CTA, makes the police look like angels.

Better Government Association  

Posted: February 22nd, 2013 9:46 AM

To the editors The Better Government Association (BGA) disputes assertions made in the Feb. 20th article entitled, "Forest Park Police: BGA Cop Intoxication Report Incomplete" and the subsequent posting on your Oak Park/River Forest web site. Since your reporter failed to call the BGA for comment to the claims and assertions made in the article, the BGA is compelled to set the record straight. The story states the BGA reported officers "could come to work intoxicated." Nowhere does it say that in the original story. The BGA has never made that remark and please note that the BGA respects law enforcement and public safety professionals. The story quotes a Forest Park deputy chief as saying the force's policies prohibit employees from being intoxicated on the job. But that comment does not address the greater question: What is considered intoxication? As the BGA report notes: The definition for each department is found in the union contracts and the accepted levels vary--some departments consider a .05 blood alcohol concentration intoxicated while others say .08, which is considered legally drunk in Illinois. The Oak Park police chief is quoted as saying the BGA "misinterpreted" department policies regarding this issue. Not true. In fact, the BGA specifically mentions that Oak Park and Elmwood Park said they would try to discipline police officers that come to work suspected of intoxication. Furthermore, we suggest that your story would have provided your readers some important information if the reporter had reached out to Mike Durkin, labor attorney for Forest Park, for comment on this important issue. Durkin told the BGA that he'd like to see contract language changed to 0.0 blood-alcohol levels, regardless of how certain police chiefs see the contract language currently. If your reporter had called, we would have suggested contacting Durkin. By the way, the BGA contacted every police department mentioned in our original story to get their side of the issue. You can go to our web site www.bettergov.org to read the entire report and decide for yourselves the merits of our investigation. The BGA is a staunch believer in having a free and open dialogue and will be happy to discuss this matter with your communities. We send this response in hopes of getting the facts out and in the interest of shining a light on government. Regards Robert Reed Director of Programming and Investigations Better Government Association

Sonia Green from River Forest  

Posted: February 22nd, 2013 7:33 AM

Please have your commenters use fuller names and please Wed Journal, monitor these comments so that it's not a free for all. I happen to be an S. Green also, and now I have people asking if I made that silly comment above. No, I did not. Sonia Green, River Forest

Karen  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 7:27 PM

I don't drink, but if I did and I was stopped by an Oak Park Police Officer, I would demand that he/she take a breathalizer test first to see if they're sober enough to give ME the test.

Brendan  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 3:12 PM

"BGA is not accurate," Tanksley said in an email. "Oak Park Police officers are expressly prohibited from being under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs while on duty." Obviously "under the influence" is different than "a few drinks before coming into work". The BGA got it right. There should be zero tolerance for this line of work.

Joe Coffey  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 2:16 PM

This has to be tough for the government bashers here...now they have to defend it to the big bad BGA. A lot of sore brains out there, I bet.

S. Green  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 1:09 PM

What is the blood alcohol limit for the the Village Board? :)

Zero Tolerance  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 1:06 PM

I a kid under 21 registers a .01, they lose their license. In the event that 8 hours isn't enough to burn off the alcohol, is it too much to ask that officers show up without any alcohol in their blood stream. Good for the BGA. Why include anything above a .00 in a contract at all?

Eric Davis from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 12:55 PM

Gosh, the Andy Shaw Self-Aggrandizement Society, er, the BGA put out a half-baked, distorted, mis-informed indictment of a governmental function or policy it knows nothing about? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say.

Irishman  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 12:44 PM

Shay - I don' seee why havin a coupul pops shud hurt. I do my job jus fine (hiccup) aftur drinkin

Peter Creticos from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 12:06 PM

This isn't the first time that the BGA has engaged in "gotcha" research. And, sadly, it won't be the last. Investigative journalism is absolutely essential in a well-functioning democracy. But, an entity that owes its entire existence to finding fault, may sometimes engage in trivial investigations while undermining public faith in public servants. Also, what distinguishes BGA from a journalistic enterprise is the implied purpose in its name to advance ideas that lead better government.

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