Monday, November 12, 2007

Arbitrator reinstates steroid using Arlington PD officer

Having discussed recently the quiet but growing problem of steroid abuse among police officers, I was interested to see an article published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram last week about a female officer fired for abusing steroids from the Arlington PD ("Veteran officer gets her job back," Nov. 9). The Arlington cop admitted to using steroids after police responded to a domestic dispute at her home:

During an arbitration hearing that ended Oct. 18, [Officer Kelly] Lincoln admitted that she had used steroids for less than two weeks in 2006 and that she had steroids in her possession at the time of the incident, the document said.

An arbitrator ruled Wednesday that Lincoln's firing was unreasonable and ordered that she be reinstated within three days of the ruling. The arbitrator said in his report that Lincoln volunteered for a drug test, ceased steroid use well before the domestic dispute and holds both a master's degree and an advanced peace officer certificate.

Lincoln's request for back pay was denied. The arbitrator wrote that the seven months without pay should serve as a reminder to Lincoln of Police Chief Theron Bowman's concerns about maintaining the highest standards within the police force.

"The Legislature passed and the city's leaders enacted the arbitration system," said Lt. Blake Miller, police spokesman. "We will abide by the arbitration process."

Two points to make about this: First, state civil service law shouldn't give arbitrators authority to overrule a police chief's decision to fire police officers. That's why those cities have civil service commissions, and it's unfortunate and misguided - an homage to police union power at the Texas Legislature - that state law gives officers who've engaged in serious misconduct so many extra appeals.

Second, the arbitrator's reinstatement of Officer Lincoln implies that - as a matter of policy if not in the opinion of the Arlington police chief - that steroid abuse is not a firing offense at that agency. After all, the next steroid abusing officer will point to Kelly Lincoln to convince the next arbitrator that firing defies precedent, and on and on it goes.

In related news, an officer allegedly peddling steroids was arrested in Tennessee last week. Allegedly he tipped off dealers about police surveillance in addition to profiting from the product's sale. Maybe it's time to begin demanding steroid testing of police officers, at least when supervisors suspect steroid use as with a new policy in Albuquerque. It would also help matters to conduct more thorough investigations when law enforcement discovers connections between peace officers and illegal steroid rings.

To be clear, I don't necessarily believe steroids should be illegal, although anecdotal tales of "roid rage" might make steroids inappropriate in any case in the law enforcement profession, where officers must always keep their heads. However as long as steroids remain outlawed, officers who use them expose themselves to black markets and corruption that risk compromising their ability to uphold the law. Police chiefs should be empowered to remove such risks from their departments.

BLOGVERSATION: Lose an Eye, It's a Sport riffs on these themes.


Anonymous said...

This is one of those issues that makes me want to cross party lines. I despise many results of modern-day collective bargaining. And that's exactly what this is.

I will say though that it seems that this was a halfway reasonable decision. No back pay so don't do it again, but the evidence was that she had already stopped so termination was too harsh.

I'd be much more concerned with the meatheads using them than the average lady cop (I'm looking at you, Dallas Co,. Sheriffs...).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Your last graph, 2:36, expresses why I thought to go ahead and support the termination here. I AM much more concerned with the "meatheads" using steroids, and I'm wary of setting precedent with a more sympathetic case that will later be used to let those guys off. best,

Anonymous said...

That's a damn good point.

That's one reason I dislike arbitration resulting from collective bargaining like this, it removes a great deal of discretion and common sense from the process. An arbitrator is overwhelmingly likely to reinstate, whereas you're arguing that they should overwhelmingly terminate.

This case seems to fall in the middle and I could kick myself for saying they got this one right, but it seems like they did.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not arguing that they should "overwhelmingly terminate," I'm arguing that it shouldn't be the arbitrator's decision, it should be the chief's. The civil service commission automatically gives an extra layer of oversight, but you're 100% correct to say that in all cases an "arbitrator is overwhelmingly likely to reinstate."

It's nearly impossible to fire a bad cop in this state in civil service cities. Even if the civil service commission upholds a firing, the arbitrators more often than not overturn it. I agree with you the system should allow for more nuance, but right now it sadly doesn't. Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

Cory said...

I'd be much more concerned with the meatheads using them than the average lady cop

Actually I'd be much LESS concerned with the "meatheads" using them. The "meatheads" can't arrest you or legally stick a nighstick in your back.

I could go on and on about the "side effects" of steroids, especially related to "roid rage" and the scientific basis for that, but since this is Scott's blog I'll just say that they should be treated as any other abused prescription drug.

FWIW: Steroids aren't "illegal". Possession of them without a prescription is however. Something that the FDA testified against during the hearings to schedule them. People forget that sometimes when talking about them.

Anonymous said...

cory: I was talking about meathead cops.

Cory said...

I was talking about meathead cops.

Ah, gotcha. Sorry for the misunderstanding then.


vindication said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Context is everything. There are many nuances to this case of which none of you are aware. Officer Lincoln’s steroid use came to light when police responded to a domestic violence call-her second. Her transformation was not a result of a two-week experiment. Her use over the years was no secret to her colleagues. Take a look at those before and after pictures! Man or woman…wow?

Anonymous said...

What before and after pics?