When the Oak Lawn Village Board approved the Oak Lawn Police Officers’ new three year contract last week, one Trustee opposed the contract because of a provision that allows officers to report to work and remain on duty with alcohol in their body. Mayor Sandra Bury, the remaining five Trustees and Village Manager Larry Deetjen, who negotiated the contract, sat silently.
But after the meeting ended and the camera went black, the silent majority responded to Trustee Robert Streit’s contention that the contract should not allow police officers to have alcohol in their system while they are at work. Walter Zalisko, a retired police chief now working as a consultant for Management Consultants International told the Better Government Association, for its story, “Zero would be the wise choice, that you can’t have any alcohol” in your bloodstream while on duty as a police officer.
Oak Lawn’s Police Chief, Michael Murray, seemed to agree with that assessment in an article written by Steve Metsch of the Daily Southtown. Murray is quoted as stating that he has “no objection to zero tolerance.” Sam Pulia, the Mayor of Westchester, voted against his town’s police contract because it also allowed officers to have alcohol in their system when reporting to duty. Pulia, the former Deputy Police Chief in Westchester, told the Better Government Association that police officers should be held to a higher standard. Pulia, who now is an officer in LaGrange Park, said, “I was a police officer here (Westchester) for 28 years. My belief is that the officers shouldn’t have any alcohol in their system.”
The opinions of law enforcement experts is not shared, however, by Trustee Terry Vorderer, a former Chief of Patrol in the Village of Oak Lawn, who supported the contract even after realizing the provision was included. Vorderer, who has a history of making inarticulate statements, commented after the meeting “You may have been out with your wife and had a cocktail at one in the morning. Then you come in at seven in the morning, you’ve got a little alcohol in your body, but you’re not impaired.”
That opinion is not shared by medical experts. A chart setting forth the effect of drinking and driving is set forth below.
|Approximate Blood Alcohol Percentage|
|Drinks||Body Weight in Pounds (Men)
|0||.00||.00||.00||.00||.00||.00||.00||.00||Only Safe Driving Limit|
|2||.08||.06||.05||.05||.04||.04||.03||.03||Driving Skills Affected
– Possible Criminal Penalties
While Vorderer is claiming that it would be acceptable to have a drink at one in the morning and report to work at 7:00 a.m., the contract actually allows as many as two drinks within an hour of reporting for men who are 220 pounds or more assuming the alcohol is metabolized in an average manner.
According to various medical sources, your body can get rid of one drink per hour. One drink is 1.5 oz. of 80 proof liquor, 12 oz. of beer, or 5 oz. of table wine. Vorderer’s example, assuming that the officer only has one drink at 1:00 a.m. would have no effect six hours later. Even one drink immediately before reporting for duty wouldn’t allow the officer to reach the .04 that is not allowed under the contract.
Vorderer called the provision standard although neither the Illinois State Police or the Cook County Sheriff’s office allow their officers to have any alcohol in their system when reporting for duty or while on duty.
Murray also noted that the provision became part of the contract in 2011. That contract was negotiated by Deetjen, who along with Trustee Alex Olejniczak pointed at the previous contract for not opposing the provision.
Streit said that the excuse that the contracts negotiated by Deetjen included the provision in another contract negotiated by Deetjen is “foolish”. He said that the world is changing and that the Village has faced mulit-million dollar lawsuits.
Deetjen admitted to the Daily Southtown that the provision was not part of negotiations but failed to admit that he was the person negotiating the contract without any input from Trustees. Streit said, “Deetjen never brought the contract to the board or asked about any of the provisions prior to asking for approval of the contract.”
Streit said that he would have preferred a “zero tolerance policy” with progressive discipline that would not result in the policy being used to punish an officer who made one mistake or has a problem that requires treatment.
“A pilot can’t get on a plane with alcohol in his system. There’s zero tolerance,” Streit, who has been the most supportive Trustee of the unions, said that “Good police officers don’t want their fellow officers having that .04 level.”
Streit said that it is unlikely that the Village Board will change its mind calling the administration “tone deaf”. He said that any change will probably have to come through state legislation.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White proposed statewide legislation in 2013 that would institute an alcohol zero tolerance policy for police officers. White noted at the time that school bus drivers cannot drive with any alcohol in their systems. The legislation passed the Illinois House but stalled in the Senate.
Various epidemiological studies support Streit’s and White’s contention. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the brain’s control of eye movements is effected by alcohol at the .03 to .05 level of blood alcohol concentration making it difficult to track objects, including cars, as they move and rapidly track an object.
The union and village agreed to a drug testing policy which includes “prohibited conduct” for all officers. One of those provisions, states “Oak Lawn Police Department employees shall not (1) report to work and/or remain on duty with an alcohol concentration of .04 or greater or exhibit such behavior or other evident manifestation of intoxication or impairment which raises in the mind of the employee’s supervisor a reasonable question of fitness for duty…”
Murray told the Daily Southtown that in his two and a half years as chief, only one officer had to be sent home from work.