Ohio police in some communities are allowed to drink before reporting for duty.
An investigative report from Journal-News found that some officers can ticket drivers who are more sober than they are.
A review of union contracts for local public safety offices found that cops and firefighters are largely protected from discipline when they drink before work.
In Lebanon, Ohio, police and firefighters can work with a blood alcohol level of .04, while .08 exceeds the legal limit to drive non-commercial vehicles in most states.
According to attorney Patrick Mulligan, who handles drunk driving cases in southwest Ohio, said drivers under 21 can be ticketed for a blood alcohol content of .02. Therefore officers might be less sober than the person they’re ticketing.
“It’s an interesting double standard,” Mulligan said. “I don’t think it’s one the general public would appreciate.”
Lebanon Police Chief Jeff Mitchell told the Journal-News that he’s working to make stricter rules on alcohol.
He said he worked with union last summer to remove a clause from contracts that allowed police to suck on a breath mint before they were tested for alcohol.
“When I came across that, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different,’ ” Mitchell said, because breath mints can distort a reading from a breathalyzer. “Doesn’t that sound odd to you that you would have that in a contract with police?”
Mitchell said the union would not negotiate the legal alcohol limit down from .04 to zero.
“My thought process is, ‘How does that look if the public looks at this and sees our contract?’”
He thinks the provision is probably decades-old. He said he’s never had to discipline an officer for being intoxicated on the job.
Highway Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said the clauses isn’t just in public safety contracts. She says the .04 stipulation appears in all state employee contracts, including those for state park police, clerks, and teachers.
People who support the .04 stipulation say it protects union workers from unfairly being accused of drinking on the job.
“Certain medications, like cough syrup, have a degree of alcohol. If a deputy sheriff is suspected of having an alcoholic beverage, (medications) could register to around .05,” said Lt. Morgan Dallman said.