What Happens When a Police Officer Gets a DUI?

First offenders often keep their jobs.

There’s no question that police officers are under pressure and subject to incredible stress. That sometimes triggers substance abuse problems. And like their civilian counterparts, they are often arrested for driving drunk and causing damage to telephone poles, parked cars, houses and much worse. Not only that, when they are arrested for DUIs, they’re subjected to higher scrutiny in the “name and shame” approach so popular with the press.


The punishment for officers, as in all criminal cases, depends on the circumstances, the officer, and the location. In general, several factors have the greatest impact on the outcome:

  • the severity of the circumstances. Were other vehicles involved? Was there an accident? Was anyone injured? The worse the situation, the more severe the disciplinary action.
  • the officer’s driving record. Was this a first DUI? Does the officer have other serious driving infractions (speeding, reckless, etc.). The worse the record, obviously, the more severe the discipline.

Adding to the Confusion

What makes this issue often more complex is that the arresting officer is often under pressure, either from fellow cops, or from the DUI perpetrator who will attempt to “badge out” the arrest (let the driver go without arrest). For example, a Denver police officer was caught on audio demanding such treatment from an arresting officer. A Toronto police officer was also subject to similar pressure.

Drinking While On Duty

If an officer is convicted of a DUI while on duty it will almost always result in termination, primarily because drinking while on duty is considered grounds for revocation of an officer’s certification or violation of the officer’s employment contract. (In some cases, the officer is decommissioned, which means that the officer’s certification to be a police officer is terminated.) Often, an officer in such a situation will resign rather than face the disciplinary consequences.

DUIs Committed While Off-Duty

In most cases, police officers guilty of DUIs while off-duty will keep their jobs if it is a one-time occurrence and followed up with appropriate disciplinary and rehabilitative actions. For example a Vermont police officer with 15 years experience kept his job after pleading guilty to a DUI in which the officer had passed out in his truck. Often the officer is temporarily placed on administrative leave as occurred in the case of a 24-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police officer (and the officer in charge of DUI checkpoints) who was found passed out after hitting a guardrail. Sometimes the administrative leave (or suspension) is indefinite, during which time the officer submits to rehab. On occasion police officers who commit DUIs are not arrested, but simply cited and released, supposedly to avoid putting the officer in jail with other inmates, as was the case with a Sun Valley assistant police chief busted with a .17 BAC.

In summary, as a very general rule, an officer involved in a DUI while off duty in which there is only property damage is likely to remain employed as a police officer following either disciplinary action and/or temporary suspension, (or in the case of multiple DUIs, decommissioning of the officer). Of course, in some cases, as in the case of a rookie Wyoming officer, the police officer resigns rather than deal with the disciplinary action and its consequences.

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