The decision not to charge an off-duty Great Barrington police officer suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol has triggered a debate on OUI policy. It's needed.
The Great Barrington Police Department is investigating the early Saturday morning incident involving Officer Daniel Bartini on the Great Barrington-Sheffield town line. A Sheffield police officer gave Officer Bartini the opportunity to summon a ride home. (Eagle, August 23 and 24).
It is understandable to suspect favoritism was involved. A 2014 Boston Globe study found that few state communities have policies dealing with OUI incidents involving off-duty police officers and those officers, if arrested, generally receive light penalties. A Bowling Green criminologist quoted in the story said the decision of an Andover police officer to arrange a ride home for a Lowell policeman stopped for alleged drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident as the "ultimate professional courtesy."
A 2008 incident involving a Pittsfield police officer accused of failing to report a traffic stop involving a fellow officer led to a Massachusetts Civil Service Commission investigation. It reported that "Every police officer who testified before the Commission testified that the routine and customary practice when a stop is made on a fellow police officer, is to show professional courtesy and not call in the stop."
As worrisome is the statement by Sheffield Police Chief Eric Munson III that "...it breaks down to 50-50" if drivers suspected of OUI are arrested or given the opportunity Officer Bartini was given. Sheffield and Great Barrington have experienced high profile drunken driving incidents that have led to death and injury in recent years. These situations must be treated consistently and strictly if the state is to keep drunken drivers off the roads.