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Is Mixing Police Work and Alcohol Dangerous?

Is Mixing Police Work and Alcohol Dangerous?

The Hartford Courant

May 09, 2011

When Jim Strillacci first wore the badge of a West Hartford police officer as a rookie in the ’70s, he was quickly pulled into a ritual of capping off most every shift with a trip to the closest source of booze.

“When I came on the job 35 years ago, an American Legion post was right behind the police station,” Strillacci said. "It was almost one of those rites of passage, where after work, you’d go down the hill and you’d have a couple brews with your fellow officers.

“And sometimes you’d end up being there until closing.”

Now, decades later, that tradition has waned, Strillacci said, as both the public and the profession are less inclined to wink at excessive drinking by officers.

But while the stereotype of the hard-drinking cop may be fading, the mix of police work and alcohol remains a dangerous combination. And after an exceptional string of tragedies and embarrassments in Connecticut, some wonder if agencies are doing all they can to deal with officers who get lost in the bottle.

“To put it bluntly: Yeah, it’s a problem,” said John Violanti, a former New York state trooper who now studies alcohol use by police as an assistant professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

“It’s long been recognized that alcohol problems in police work are prevalent,” Violanti said. “Generally, it’s social: it’s done only with other police officers and there’s no repercussions. But then you get the guy who can’t control it anymore, and that’s when the trouble starts.”

In Connecticut, there has been plenty of trouble the past year:

— Bristol police Officer Robert Mosback acknowledged drinking at a neighborhood party before going on duty June 26. He later crashed his cruiser into a utility pole while driving at twice the speed limit; court records indicate his blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit at 0.13 percent. He was charged with driving under the influence.

— Windsor Locks police Officer Michael Koistinen allegedly spent hours drinking the night of Oct. 29 when his car struck and killed a teenager riding a bicycle. He faces manslaughter charges. The head of a regional accident-reconstruction team who was called to the scene reportedly arrived drunk and was sent home, sources have said.

— State Police Lt. Timothy Kradas crashed into a box truck on I-84 while on duty Feb. 2. Investigators reportedly found empty beer cans and a mix of alcohol and tomato juice in his cruiser and charged him with driving under the influence.

— And early last Saturday morning, New Britain police Capt. Matthew Tuttle, reportedly after attending a party with other officers, lost control of his car and struck a disabled vehicle and its driver before fleeing the scene and driving home. He was charged with drunken driving and evading responsibility, and less than 12 hours later, fatally shot himself in the head in his Middletown apartment.

While high-profile cases make headlines, it is hard to quantify just how common alcohol abuse is inside the nation’s police departments.

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