By Jean Lotus
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."