Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Against the “Zero Tolerance” Substance Abuse Policy

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I oppose the “Zero Tolerance” policy on substance abuse. Yes, even for police officers and firefighters. I always have.

I DO support even more vigorous random drug/alcohol testing, especially for emergency services workers and removing those found addicted to drugs &/or alcohol from active duty until they've recovered...and to be clear, I've never smoked even cigarettes, and I rarely drink alcohol.

I've known people who've had substance abuse issues and have come to accept that addiction is disease. We should at least attempt to treat the disease rather than simply eliminate the diseased person.

I believe that today, in the case of Kevin Simpkins, and for all the others who have been subjected to the “Zero Tolerance” policy. Many seem to argue, “Since others have been fired over “Zero Tolerance,” than people like Kevin Simpkins should be fired too,” but I think that’s exactly backwards. Just because others have been subjected to a travesty, we shouldn't seek future members be subjected to the same travesty. Instead, we should seek redress for all those wrongly terminated over an ill-conceived policy. We don’t hang horse thieves today because, “Lots of people in the past were hung as horse thieves, so today’s offenders deserve no less.”

I think the “3 strikes” policy was a fair way to split the difference. It gave the City the right to remove substance abusers from its ranks, while giving those suffering under the pangs of addiction 2 chances to get treated before being terminated; A 1st offense = treatment, a 2nd offense = a final shot at treatment and a 3rd offense = termination.

I was fortunate. One of the Lieutenants I worked with as a Proby was a guy named Phil Kopp, who did NOT take ANY drinking on duty mildly. He called beer, the alcohol of choice for most guys back then, “dumb juice,” and often made the point, “You wouldn't allow a plumber, or electrician into your home if they arrived impaired, so how can it be OK to do this job where people’s lives are at stake in any state other than your best?”

I did drink with friends when I was younger, but by my late 20's, I’d noticed that even after 3 or 4 beers the night before, I came down with weird muscle aches in my thighs and lower back, “like I had been bracing a wall all night.” When I stopped drinking beer, the muscle aches disappeared. That was enough evidence for me and I just stopped. It wasn't hard for me. I didn't like the taste of beer much at all anyway...AND I never really cared what other people thought of me, one way or the other.

I greatly admired Phil Kopp’s stand and the personal courage it took to do that in an environment where that view was often disdained.

But we live in an age in which there are many such ill-conceived and poorly implemented policies, from “hate crimes laws,” to “the right not to be ‘offended’ by others.” I've always opposed “hate crimes” laws because they are, in effect, “THOUGHT crimes.” IF our goal is to eradicate racial/ethnic violent crime, then we should simply enact harsher penalties for ALL inter-racial violence forthwith. I would certainly support THAT! Of course, “hate crimes” laws don’t do that. Instead, they seek to divine “the intentions” of the attackers, often relying on unreliable and/or embellished eye-witness testimony to do so.

As for any right “NOT to be offended,” it clearly does not exist. I am deeply offended by, among other things, those who claim to support race/gender-based preferences and “hate crimes” laws, but such “anti-harassment” laws don’t protect me. WHY not?

Is it because “a majority of Americans support hate crimes laws?” Does a poor policy’s popularity make it a “proper” or valid viewpoint?

Well, if that’s the case, then supporting race/gender-based preferences DOES NOT meet that criteria, given that well over 70% of Americans oppose race/gender-based preferences.

For me, in any case, the inanity of such rationalizations makes no difference. I have no desire to silence those who disagree with me, nor seek to punish others merely because I find them and their views “offensive.” I am generally interested in WHY those who do disagree with me do so.

Thankfully, ALL such policies are constantly under review and hopefully many will one day (soon?) be drastically reformed, including the “Zero-Tolerance” substance abuse policy, to ones that value workers and see flaws as correctable instead of merely grounds for termination.

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