DAYTON — Some law enforcement contracts across Ohio set allowable alcohol levels for officers on duty.
Ohio Highway Patrol troopers and state park police are among those who can’t be disciplined for having blood alcohol levels below 0.04, the Dayton Daily News reported. Some local agencies in the state have higher permissible levels, while others have zero tolerance on drinking.
Officials say such language has often been in contracts for years.
Union officials say that doesn’t mean drinking on duty is condoned, but the level helps safeguard officers who might have taken cough syrup that contains alcohol or were unexpectedly called out to duty.
“I can’t for the life of me think of why it would be so important to have an acceptable level of alcohol permissible,” said Doug Scoles, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Ohio. “Why’s that even in the contract? That’s flabbergasting to hear.”
Highway Patrol Staff Lt. Anne Ralston said the 0.04 language has been in state contracts for years, including those for the patrol, park rangers, other state law enforcement and other state employees. It states: “No consequences will attach to any result below a .04 percent level.”
Ralston said that doesn’t mean they would be allowed to remain on duty after drinking. Someone testing below the allowed level would likely be sent home, she said.
“In no way is coming to work with any amount of alcohol or drugs in an employee’s system in line with our core values or our mission,” Ralston said.
In Delaware County’s Liberty Township near Columbus, firefighters don’t face discipline unless they are legally drunk at 0.08 percent. Township administrator David Anderson said he agreed to that level during union negotiations on drug and alcohol policy because in an emergency, “I don’t need anybody deciding not to come because that number is artificially low.”
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said no alcohol amount is OK for his officers while on duty.
“We have to make split-second decisions and we could take somebody’s life in a split-second decision, so they have to be on their best game,” Plummer said.
Sgt. Jeff Gebhart, who represents Butler County sheriff’s detectives, supervisors and deputies in negotiations, said the alcohol policy has probably remained in contracts because it never comes up. He said he has yet to see a deputy on duty tested for suspicion being impaired.
“It’s not something that we’ve really bargained hard for,” he said.