What Happens When a Police Officer Gets a DUI?

The punishment for officers, as in all criminal cases, depends on the circumstances, the officer, and the location.

While police are generally on the other side of DUI (driving under the influence) enforcement, police officers aren’t immune to arrest and conviction for driving under the influence. And, those who have DUI convictions on their records could find their criminal history to be an obstacle to getting employment in law enforcement. Here is some general information on how a DUI conviction might impact a career in law enforcement.

Can You Become a Cop with a DUI Conviction on Your Record?

All law enforcement applicants must pass a background check prior to becoming a police officer. However, a prior DUI conviction won’t necessarily preclude an applicant from becoming an officer.

Some police departments have particularly strict policies against hiring officers with prior DUI convictions. However, most police departments are more concerned with applicants who have serious criminal convictions (such as sex offenses and felonies) and convictions for crimes that reflect badly on the applicant’s trustworthiness or moral character. Many police departments won’t employ officers who have felony convictions, including felony DUIs. But policies related to misdemeanor DUI convictions normally require only that applicants be free of any DUI or license suspension incidents for at least a few years.

More recently, many departments have become more lenient about applicant’s histories and instead of having bright-line rules, consider each applicant’s history on a case-by-case basis.

What Happens if a Cop Gets a DUI?

Law enforcement officers who break the law aren’t supposed to get special privileges. So, an officer who’s convicted of driving under the influence should face the same penalties as anyone else. But a DUI can also have an impact on a police officer’s employment, especially if the officer was on-duty at the time of the offense.

Police officers who are arrested for driving under the influence will normally be subject to an internal investigation. Depending on the investigation outcome, the officer might face consequences such as dismissal, administrative leave, or having to complete a substance abuse treatment program. If the incident involved the officer being impaired while on-duty, dismissal is generally the most likely outcome.

But even if the offense occurred while the officer was off-duty, the DUI penalties can make it impossible for the officer to keep doing his or her job. For example, an officer with a suspended license can’t operate a squad car and may be placed on leave without pay until his or her driving privileges are restored.

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