Sunday, May 17, 2009

The nation’s capital is recovering from a week of cops running wild Every year on May 15, National Peace Officers Memorial Day is celebrated in Washington. During this week, thousands of police drive their squad cars across the country to participate in around-the-clock conferences and parties. There’s a candlelight vigil to honor slain officers and a relay race for charities to benefit families of police killed in the line of duty. These are commendable activities to honor the thin blue line that helps keep order in our communities. Unfortunately, the bad judgment of a few rowdy cops can cast a shadow over the week’s worthwhile events.

For years, local residents have whispered to one another to stay off the roads at night during National Police Week because of all the police cars swerving wildly after the bars close. This year, the Metropolitan Police took the unusual step of ticketing cruisers because so many were parked illegally. Roll Call ran two photos last week of out-of-state police cars parked in a handicap spot and a space reserved for Zipcars. Emergency fire lanes across the city were blocked by police cars.

The dangerous activity is not limited to automobiles. Drinking while carrying sidearms is an annual part of the celebrations. A few years back, one inebriated officer tripped out of a bar in Chinatown and unloaded his pistol on the bell tower of nearby St. Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church.

At Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium two years ago, four officers from Signal Hill, Calif., made a public spectacle of themselves at a Nationals-Braves baseball game. With little regard for safety and even less concern for their appearance, these law enforcement officers were chugging down beers while in full uniform with their pistols on their hips and spare bullet clips on their utility belts. One concerned spectator asked them if it was against police regulations to be drinking alcohol while carrying weapons. In response, one of the officers teetered over, spilled his beer, put his finger to his lips and slurred, “shhhhh” - giggling uncontrollably.

A few moments later, a cop jumped out of his seat to celebrate a home run, spilling his beer all over the displeased stranger seated next to him. A whole section of the stadium was yelling “Down in front” as the police blocked spectators’ view of play on the field so they could take pictures of themselves in front of first base. At least two concerned citizens called the Signal Hill Police headquarters, were assured that the incident was being looked into, and then received no follow-up despite attempts to discover if any disciplinary action had been taken.

The bad behavior of these police officers exposes a double standard. As one Nationals fan, who is a lawyer, told us: “There’s no way those cops could pass a street sobriety test right now. Just imagine how we’d get treated if they pulled us over having consumed half of what they’ve drunk tonight - and they’re packing heat.”

We don’t begrudge police officers having a little fun, but they need to abide by the same laws they enforce on the rest of us. When they go out for a few beers, they might want to leave their uniforms and guns at home.

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