Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has made the right call in implementing a new policy that any employee charged with driving under the influence will be fired. Individuals who earn their paycheck from a law enforcement agency charged with serving and protecting the public tacitly agree to adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct both on and off duty.
Under the new rule, any Sheriff's Office employee cited for driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 percent will be automatically fired, as will employees convicted of a DUI charge in a criminal proceeding. The explicit penalty comes in the wake of several embarrassing incidents involving inebriated Pinellas deputies arrested for DUI, including a probationary deputy who showed his badge after hitting a parked vehicle. Such antics undermine the agency's integrity.
Previously in Pinellas, sheriff's employees facing a DUI charge faced discipline ranging from a seven-day suspension to termination. Now, when an employee is arrested, he or she will be compelled to submit to a Breathalyzer test. While state law allows civilians to legally decline such tests, employees of the Sheriff's Office can be compelled by the department's internal affairs staff. Employees will have the option to resign, but Gualtieri said when it comes to sworn officers, resignation won't circumvent formal reporting to the state that the officer resigned while under investigation, a notation that will likely end his or her chances of being employed by another law enforcement agency.
Gualtieri's zero-tolerance policy closely mirrors rules put in place in 2004 by Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee. In Pasco and Hernando counties, sheriffs handle internal DUI incidents by placing the employee under administrative leave until the case is legally adjudicated before determining the employee's job status.
The public deserves to know that those charged with protecting the public are no risk to public safety themselves. Gualtieri's new rules send the right message in holding his employees to account.