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LASD supervisors recommend stricter rules for off-duty intoxication while carrying firearms

Current sheriff’s office policy dictates that off-duty deputies are allowed to carry a gun as long as their blood alcohol content is below .08

4 current and former LASD employees die by suicide in 24-hour span

“We believe firearms should always be handled responsibly and that, as a general rule, guns and alcohol aren’t a good mix. We also believe in policies that are supported by data and factual information,” said Richard Pippin, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Linh Tat
Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — In response to dozens of incidents over the years of law enforcement officers being intoxicated while carrying a gun, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 23, passed a motion asking Sheriff Robert Luna to consider banning deputies — whether on duty or not — from drinking while in possession of a firearm.

The motion asks Luna to update a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department policy “to include a strict prohibition against carrying firearms while consuming alcohol, on or off-duty” in addition to other measures. It comes more than four years after the county’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) first recommended changes to the department’s policy on firearms safety.

In 2019, the OIG identified 81 cases in which Sheriff’s deputies were charged with being under the influence of alcohol while a firearm was within reach. In another report this past November, the OIG identified eight more incidents in which deputies consumed alcohol while in possession of a firearm.

These instances included examples where the deputies allegedly fired their weapons negligently, threatened others by displaying the gun or got into fights while in possession of a firearm.

“I was surprised that LASD firearms safety policy was filled with weaknesses and loopholes,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who introduced Tuesday’s motion to the board, along with board chair Lindsey Horvath.

“We know that mixing of alcohol and guns never ends in a good manner and, rather, increases the risk of injuries and death,” Solis added at the board meeting.

The motion passed 4-0. Supervisor Janice Hahn abstained from voting, saying she believes it should be up to Luna, as sheriff, to set the policy for his department.

Tuesday’s motion referenced both OIG reports and recent news reports that alleged members of a deputy gang got into a confrontation with teenagers outside a Montclair bowling alley, during which an off-duty deputy who had been drinking flashed a gun.

The L.A. Sheriff’s Department currently allows off-duty deputies to carry a firearm if their blood-alcohol content is below 0.08. If it’s higher than 0.08, a deputy can challenge a claim that he or she is unfit to handle a firearm if they believe they aren’t impaired — based on so-called “rebuttable presumption language” in the department’s firearms safety policy.

In addition to asking Luna to bar deputies from drinking while possessing a firearm, the motion passed by the Board of Supervisors asks the sheriff to consider other changes, including:

* Removing so-called “rebuttable presumption language” from the firearms safety policy.

* Requiring an employee to undergo testing if they smell like alcohol or there is reason to suspect they’re under the influence. The employee could face disciplinary actions if they refuse to be tested.

* Mandating alcohol testing anytime an off-duty deputy accidentally discharges a gun.

As sheriff, Luna gets to decide whether to adhere to the Board of Supervisors’ recommendations.

The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement after the board vote that the department is reviewing current policy, researching best practices and exploring options.

“Additionally, we are evaluating the OIG report and the outlined concerns. There are multiple stakeholders that need to be incorporated into this decision and any policy changes need to go through the appropriate meet and confer process,” reads the statement.

Richard Pippin, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing more than 8,000 deputies, said in a statement that the issue is “complex” and that the association looks forward to working with the Sheriff’s Department “to establish a practical policy.”

“We believe firearms should always be handled responsibly and that, as a general rule, guns and alcohol aren’t a good mix. We also believe in policies that are supported by data and factual information,” Pippin stated.

Should the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department adopt a more restrictive policy, it would not be the first law enforcement agency to do so.

The OIG’s 2019 report cited several examples of law enforcement agencies with strict firearms policies, including the Albuquerque Police Department’s zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking while armed, which applies also to off-duty personnel.

In San Francisco, members of the city’s police department can’t consume alcohol or be impaired while armed, the OIG reported. Impairment in this case is defined as having a blood-alcohol content of 0.015 or higher. Similarly, in Minneapolis, an off-duty police officer can’t carry a firearm if their blood-alcohol content is 0.02 or higher.

And in New York City, police officers must undergo mandatory alcohol testing anytime they’re involved in a firearms discharge that results in injury or death, whether they were on or off duty, according to the 2019 OIG report.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Police Department last year lowered the drinking limit for off-duty officers in possession of a firearm to 0.04% — or half the legal drinking limit before someone is guilty of driving under the influence.

The LAPD’s policy states that a sworn, off-duty officer shall not consume alcohol “to the extent in which it causes impairment” if they’re carrying a firearm. Someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.04 would be in violation of the department’s policy, although the person would only be required to undergo testing if they show signs of being under the influence of alcohol or if there is reasonable suspicion that they have consumed alcohol.

Max Huntsman, the county’s inspector general, responded Tuesday to a series of questions, including why no changes were made to L.A. Sheriff’s Department policies after the OIG’s 2019 report and what prompted the Board of Supervisors’ latest motion.

Huntsman said that Alex Villanueva, who was the county’s sheriff when the 2019 report came out, chose to implement less than 20% of OIG recommendations.

Luna, the current sheriff, was elected in 2022.

“LASD has improved the rate under its new administration, but only marginally,” Huntsman wrote. “It is unusual for the Board (of Supervisors) to step in on such a matter and they responded to a recent additional report by OIG in late 2023 emphasizing the ongoing problem. We appreciate their attention to the matter.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Horvath said in a statement after the vote that the county’s No. 1 priority is keeping communities safe.

“If a Sheriff’s deputy is on duty with a firearm, their blood alcohol content should be zero — with no exceptions,” she stated. “With this motion, we make clear the Sheriff’s Department should set a policy to ensure sober judgment and to seriously investigate cases where intoxication is suspected.”


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