Monday, January 16, 2012

Peer pressure promoting police binge drinking begins in academy

Tanya Eiserer at the Dallas News has a crackerjack story on the hot-button topic of alcoholism and law-enforcement culture ("They drink when they're blue: Stress, peer pressure contribute to police's alcohol culture," Jan. 16, behind paywall). Here's a notable excerpt:
Drinking is part of the police culture.

“They drink a lot, and they drink together,” said John Violanti, a research associate professor at the University at Buffalo and a former New York state trooper who studies police stress and alcohol use. “It’s part of the macho image, part of being a cop.”

Experts on police, and many officers, say cops drink because of peer pressure and high stress levels. They get into trouble with alcohol because they feel invulnerable and, as society’s helpers, are less likely to show weakness by seeking help. As mores change and technology advances, they’re more likely to get caught and their colleagues less likely to risk assisting them in covering up their problems.
The article is filled with examples of officers binge drinking with other officers then getting in serious accidents. The story opened with these anecdotes:
Kelly Beemer drank heavily at a South Dallas bar before hitching a ride home in a squad car, where she fired a gun through the floorboards.

Rachel Nicely downed margaritas at a Greenville Avenue bar before climbing behind the wheel, hitting a parked car and being arrested for drunken driving.

Jesus Cisneros had eight beers and four shots at a birthday party and later slammed his city vehicle into another car, killing the driver.

All were police officers with promising careers. All drank heavily with other off-duty officers on the day they got into trouble.

Their careers were ruined.
Other tales included an officer who showed up at a SWAT assignment with alcohol on his breath and later, in another incident, was found passed out in a running city vehicle with a can of Foster's in his lap. Despite those lapses, he was allowed to remain on the force eleven more years until another DWI forced his resignation. So some of these issues arise form lax police management giving second and third chances to chronically alcoholic officers, even when they drink on the job.

A treatment provider said that "suppressing trauma and stress" is a root cause of alcoholism in law enforcement, but it's also clear that peer pressure to participate in police drinking culture begins well before officers ever hit the street. According to one expert quoted, "Rookies are indoctrinated into the brotherhood in blue and the culture of alcohol consumption at the police academy." One of the ex-Dallas officers interviewed said that's where her problems started:
Former Dallas police officer Shelly Pierce said in an interview that she drank a lot while in the academy and afterward. She typically drank, off duty, with other officers and a shared expectation that it was going to be a wild night.

“When we go out, we’re going out,” said Pierce, who lost her job over a 2006 drunken-driving arrest. “We’re getting drunk. We’re going to be the loudest. All the attention is going to be on us. … It’s because of that whole ‘shock and awe’ thing. I’m going to be the one that shocks.”

Laura Brodie, a California-based psychologist who worked with the Los Angeles Police Department’s employee assistance program, said she has found a lack of moderation prevalent in the police culture.

“It’s all or nothing,” she said. “When they get into drinking, they start competing in their drinking.”
First-rate reporting by Eiserer on a seldom-discussed subject. As she'd reported in a 2009 story, roughly 89% of police suicides (which occur far more frequently than deaths in the line of duty) involve alcohol abuse, so this subject not only impacts the safety of the public (nobody wants a drunk in uniform wielding a gun or arrest authority) but also the officers themselves.


Anonymous said...

A few months ago a long time Smith County sheriff's deputy was arrested after being found passed out, drunk behind the wheel at a stop sign. He, allegedly, had just come from partying at a local strip club with other officers (I hear the sheriff is a part owner of the strip club but many of his church going, pious, supporters don't know that). Then it came out that some months earlier, this same officer had been stopped while driving drunk in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville officer didn't arrest him, I assume as a professional courtesy. Doesn't that make officers hypocrites when they talk about the dangers of drunk driving but let their own go to potentially injure or kill someone in the future?

Anonymous said...

Katy Police Department just fired one officer. He was a passenger drunk from a party. Go to for the story.

BarkGrowlBite said...

There is no question but that cops do a lot of drinking off-duty. There is both the camaraderie and the stressfulness of the job. And it is true that as a result there is a lot of alcoholism among cops. However, if there is peer pressure to drink, that pressure comes from within and not from fellow officers. And to call it ‘binge drinking’ is quite a stretch. Cops do not binge drink like those idiot college fraternity and sorority members.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, I'm not sure how you define "binge" drinking, but IMO the anecdotes cited in the DMN story qualify.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like college!!!

BarkGrowlBite said...

Grits, I've got news for you. While Tanya Eiserer wrote a good story, that doesn't mean she's got all her facts right or that the ones she got right apply to all police agencies.

For starters, I attended a police academy in the 1950s that required all basic trainees to stay the training center during the week. There was supervised study and bed checks at 11:00 p.m. We could only leave the academy during weekends and most of us headed home as soon as classes were over. There was almost no drinking by anyone.

Then from 1970-1993, I was associated with a regional Texas police academy. While the trainees went home every evening, they had so much studying to do that they had no time to go out drinking. We did throw them a party upon graduation and unfortunately a few of the graduates did get drunk, but only a few.

Furthermore, when I was on the faculty of Sam Houston State University (1969-1970) I taught some classes at the Dallas Police Academy, then located adjacent to Love Field. From what I saw, there wasn't a lot of drinking going on by the Dallas police cadets.

As for binge drinking, the description I have is that it is guzzling down a whole bottle of beer without coming up for breath or guzzling down a substantial quantity of hard liquor down at one time, repeated several times over. I've been at a lot of cop drinking affairs and I never saw any of that.

As I mentioned in my original comment, cops do not drink like those idiot college fraternity and sorority members, Tanya Eiserer's cherry-picking story notwithstanding.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, I'd disagree with you that the definition of "binge drinking" is "guzzling down a whole bottle of beer without coming up for breath or guzzling down a substantial quantity of hard liquor down at one time, repeated several times over."

IMO binge drinkers are people who may not drink daily but drink to excess when they do, with the specific intent to become intoxicated. When I hear someone had "eight beers and four shots at a birthday party," to me that qualifies, though it wouldn't meet your definition.

Also, did you ever think perhaps cadets might CONCEAL their drinking habits from academy trainers like yourself? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

"eight beers and four shots", tonite. Tomorrow (if I make it home tonite), I may point a gun at you or steal your freedom, on the "right" side of the law...

Anonymous said...

Barring the serious stuff, this is just the crooks chasing the crooks. Whoops, but the cops were out drinkin' last night, imagine that!

BarkGrowlBite said...

Grits, I'm not going to argue with you about binge drinking. I know that it is defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within a period of two hours. But my description is the one that is perceived to be binge drinking by many people.

As for the cadets concealing their drinking, I don't thinks so. I've been around the block a few times and it's not hard for me to detect when people have been drinking.

Grits, even though I often disagree with you, I really do like your blog. It's first rate. The only thing that bothers me about your postings is that they brings out a lot of anonymous dickheads who are obvious cop haters.

A Texas PO said...

With all the focus on our military members coming home with PTSD and the substance abuse & violence that come along with it, I've always been baffled by the lack of attention for our men & women in blue. Cops see things in person that most of us only see in movies, and we expect them to just move on. Sure, there's help out tgere, but just as with our soldiers, there is a resistance because they're supposed to be strong and not need help. But that's a problem that is prevalent in our society. I certainly hope that this changes.

sunray's wench said...

Texas PO ~ I had an interesting conversation with an American ex-soldier a little while ago, who stated vehemently that only service personnel (army, navy, airforce) should be able to be disgnosed with PTSD, because -he said - if everyone else is allowed that diagnosis then it ceases to mean anything. He was worried that soldiers would stop getting help for PTSD if civilians were also diagnosed with PTSD. I tried to point out that rape victims, accident victims and even a significant protion of inmates suffer PTSD, but he just wouldn't accept it was the same thing because they had not been in a combat zone.

I suspect this "you don't understand the job" mentality also contributes to the high number of police driving around drunk (if you believe the article).

Anonymous said...

While police drinking to excess happens, it is not particularly commonplace in my experience. In the decades I've been affiliated with law enforcement, it has been rare enough that even I'm shocked when I read those reported headlines about officers on or off duty that get caught short.

If it is from the stresses of the job, perhaps it might make sense to educate them beforehand and provide them alternative means to lose the stress. Some paint with a mighty broad brush about courtesy rides or other perceived perks of the job but just because one officer gives another a break doesn't sully the majority that never did so.

RSO wife said...

Unless those of you with opinions on what constitutes a drinking problem belong to Alcoholics Anonymous and can speak from personal knowledge, you should probably keep quiet and let those of us with first hand knowledge of the disease talk. It isn't who you are, where you work, what you drink or with whom, how much you drink or how often that defines the disease of alcoholism. It is why you drink and what happens to you when you do.

Police officers are no different than the rest of us and some are probably alcoholics. In years past everyone, including cops, turned a blind eye to the average guy who had "one too many". With the advent of modern technology and the glaring publicity of the media, the general population is being held accountable for their actions when alcohol plays a part, and since cops are part of that population, they too should be held accountable. Drinking and driving are dangerous no matter who is behind the wheel.

I would really like to see the average "Joe" who has been given jail time for several DUI's tell the judge that he drank because of PTSD. I'm sure the judge would find that terribly amusing.

Arachne646 said...

Another recovering alcoholic here--lots of people who aren't alcoholics drink to self-medicate intolerable mental and emotional symptoms from things like PTSD and/or clinical depression, or work and family problems. Of course it only makes things worse, but it's often a behavior that's familiar and shared with friends, and it works temporarily, for awhile anyway.

I believe a central Washington woman, a former police officer still holds the record for the highest breathalyzer reading in the State--a truly Eastern Eauropean concentration which I can't recall exactly.

Anonymous said...

There is a vast difference between an occasional party drinker, and a habitual drunk. To be sure, neither are any different than the fool weaving down the road with their chin in their chest, texting on a cell phone. All three are accidents going somewhere to happen. Why should the law discriminate between them?

Anonymous said...

I am a cop and know of another cop who had to shoot and kill a man after a 4 minute fist fight that was as brutal as anything you would expect to see in a war zone. He suffers from PTSD and drinks too much since the incident. The earlier posts were correct when they stated there is limited or nonexistent mental health services for police officers.
In addition we see and experience horrific scenes on a routine basis ie: homicide, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, child abuse, suicides, fatal car crashes the list goes on and on. Then we have to investigate those crimes and at the same time interact with and help the families of the victims. At times it becomes more then we would like to admit we as officers can handle.
No one else goes through or sees the things we see firsthand. The public sees is edited and Hollywood airbrushed on CSI and all the other cop shows, but that is not how it really goes down.
Before I became a cop I had a dozen or more friends from college and previous jobs I would hang out with. Once I became a cop those friends slowly disappeared. It happens to all police officers and I was even told it would happen while I was in the Academy. All of your friends are now cops, they are the only people who understand what we do and go through. When we get together we drink and many times we drink too much. It has been this way for over 100 yrs in law enforcement. I am not condoning it or making excuses, just merely explaining how it occurs.