A year and a half ago, D.C. police officer George McCann walked into a 14th Street massage parlor while on duty, grabbed a masseuse and demanded that she have sex with him because he was a cop. He was drunk at the time.
A year ago, officer Donald Yates crashed his scout car into another car and later was convicted of reckless driving. He was drunk at the time.
Four years ago, officer Dennis Mendell accidentally shot himself in the thigh while he was on duty. He was drunk at the time.
No one knows how many local police officers have a drinking problem. An estimated 10 percent of any workforce has trouble handling alcohol, according to the National Insititute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Officials say that figure probably is higher for police officers.
"Any organization that has high stress has a high rate of alcoholism, and that includes police departments," said Ed Donovan, one of the nation's top consultants on alcoholism in police departments.
But police officers often have a tough time admitting that they have the disease of alcoholism, "It's very unmanly to talk about any problems," said Donovan. "Most police officers will not tell another officer about their problem. It's death before dishonor. . . . They are hesitant to go out and seek help."
Thus, officials say, a drinking problem often is not recognized until the officer gets into trouble -- crashing a car, shooting off a gun, mouthing off to a superior.
Even when alcoholic officers are recongnized, the local departments don't have very effective ways of dealing with them. The District of Columbia has sent Mendell, McCann, Yates and other officers before the police trial board, but since the U.S. Civil Service Commission reversed the board's decision two years ago to fire Mendell, officials have been less willing to send officers before the board.
Only one officer has been disciplined by the trial board for an alcohol-related problem this year; he was fined $1,000, but was retained on the force after he was invovled in an accident with his scout car while drinking on the job. Last year, six officers appeared before the board for incidents involving drinking. One officer was fired, the rest were fined.
Officers sometimes are required to seek counseling through the department's employe assistance program -- and, in fact, alcoholics represent half the officers the program sees. But the police departments in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs don't have any in-house programs for treating alcoholics, and must refer officers to other agencies instead.
Many D.C. police officers recall an old saying that veterans tell rookies on the force -- "the three things that can get you in trouble are liquor, women and property."
"Policemen are problem solvers for everybody," Donovan said. "The No. 1 way to deal with stress is to take a drink. It's that macho image. You see it on television and emulate it."
"I think if you look around the country you will find the alcoholism rate higher among cops," said James Fyfe, a consultant with the Police Foundation. "When an individual becomes a cop, he leaves society. He leaves that Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 kind of world and enters a closed society . . . It's a very strange and stressful job,"
Fyfe, a former New York City police officer, said the changing shifts -- days evening and midnights -- make it difficult for a police officer to socialize with people who are not police officers. "When you finish your 4 to-12 [shift] you go for a few beers with the boys . . . The major causes of drinking is the peculiar working hours and the peculier strees of the job."
For Ted, an 11-year veteran of the force, drinking and police work went hand-in-hand.
When he worked days, he would stop regularly at a Maryland liquor store on his way to work, pick up a pint of whiskey and drink it on his way in. Four hours later, he would go to his favorite liquor store in the District of Columbia and pick up another pint. By day's end. He would have drunk a quart of whiskey.
At first, nothing happened. Then he had an accident with his scout car. Another time, he reported to work, drove his car to his mother's home outside his police district and spent the day sleeping off a hangover.
"It seems I was using alcohol to change my personality," Ted recalled.
"It made me feel freer. I am basically a shy person, but with alcohol I opened up. I liked the way it made me feel. I didn't come home and beat my wife. I would get high and buy things I don't ordinarily buy, like $300 suits. I tried to be a gambler. I didn't save any money. Pay day was like a holiday."
One day, Ted reported to the police station and picked up his scooter. He stopped off at a liquor store, bought a pint of whiskey and headed for a friend's home outside the police district where he worked.
He never made it. He collided with a car. And although he was not at fault in the accident, he had violated police rules by leaving his district. He was fined $300 and prohibited from operating a police vehicle for 180 days. h
He then was put to work in the station as a clerk, booking prisoners when they were arrested and handling administrative matters. "There was no threat to my life [there]," Ted said. "By the time a prisoner came in, he had been frisked three or four times. I had nothing to worry about."
His drinking continued. He would bring a fifth to work with him each day, tag it and put it in the room where prisoners' property is kept. Then throughout the day, he would drop into the room and get a drink.
His problems continued as well. Once he was stopped for speeding in Prince George's County. He was drunk and that was written in the citation. Another time, while he was drunk and off duty, he got into an argument with a man over a debt and the police were called. He was not arrested, but the incident was reported to his supervisor.
Throughout it all, Ted promised that he would seek help for his drinking problems.He was suspended from the force for six months in 1973 and when he returned, he sought help because he had been told that any future drinking problem could lead to his firing.
"It was not because I needed help," Ted said. "I was trying to give myself some security if I got drunk in the future."
It did not work. He quit the program after six weeks and again started drinking.
Finally, he was told by the union attorney that he should seek help or he might be fired. Reluctantly, he went and this time the program worked.
"The hardest part when I sobered up was I couldn't pass a liquor store," he said. "The first thing you have to do is to realize that you have a drinking problem. Then want to stop drinking . . . I still have doubt as to whether I have an acohol problem," but he has not had a drink for a year.
Neil Sweeney understands Ted's plight. Sweeney retired from the police department on a partial disability in 1966 after 16 years on the force. He and the police retirement board thought his problem was anxiety. Seven years later, he found out that his real problem was alcholism.
"I didn't like to drink on duty," said Sweeney. Nevertheless, he would manage to drink a case of beer a day.
One night, he called in sick and then went to his favorite neighborhood bar. A fire broke out there and before the night was over, Sweeney's supervisors knew that he hadn't been sick at all. But no one suggested to him that he had a drinking problem.
"It's really hard to get the average policeman to use the word alcohol or alcoholism when he talks about himself," Sweeney said. "Most policemen fear loss of their job, number one. They fear making mistakes. They fear making a bad arrest. These are things that eat at you on the inside.
"You can't talk with other officers about it. You can't talk to your supervisors about it . . . Policemen handle the skid row drunks. When you say, 'You're one of them' they say, 'No, not me.' It's hard to get anybody to admit that they're an alcholic."
Ed Donovan, the police consultant and a recovered alcoholic himself, agrees.
Police officers see alcoholism as unmanly, says Donovan. "We have got to stop hiding our problem like children. A guy can go for help and not be a sissy."
That sentiment is expressed by the Revs. R. Joseph Dooley and James J. Powderly, two D.C. police chaplains who six years ago were part of a team urging creation of an employe assistance program. Two years ago, it was.
"Was he have to say is, let's stop being embarrassed about alcoholism," said Powderly, a recovered alcoholic.
Dooley initially headed the program, but resigned because he wanted records kept confidential and wanted to use cops who were recovered alcoholics as peer counselors.
Today the program is administred by a psychologist but has no officers serving as peer counselors.
Although Dr. Victor Bibbons, the psychologist, says records are kept confidential, many officers with drinking problems say they are reluctant to go to the program voluntarily because they feel their supervisors will find out.
"Everybody knows it isn't working," said Larry Simons, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers local that represents the rank-and-file officers. "It's not his [Bibbons'] fault that people aren't going in. They are suspicious. We have to overcome that suspicion."
Simons said his union is trying to get officers involved in the employe assistance program, reasoning that more officers will seek help that way.
"We're trying to take the fear out of it," he said.
"I drink a lot more than I did before the shooting," said Gregory Gaston, a detective who killed a man four years ago during a chase. It was not yet 11 a.m., and his hand trembled as he poured his third shot of Chivas Regal.
"They always told me that there are different forms of alcoholics. If you want to have to drink every night before you go to bed to help you sleep, your're an alcoholic. If you get angry with someone and you take a drink and you always take a drink after you get angry, well, then you are an alcoholic. If you go out at night and party and you have an excessive amount to drink and you wake up the next morning with a hangover and you take a beer to get rid of that hangover, then you're an alcoholic.
"That's what they say. It's all over TV. Well, if that's the case, I am an alcoholic, too."