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Crash raises questions on whether cops convicted of drunk driving can stay on job

EDMONTON - A fiery crash allegedly involving an off-duty Alberta policeman is raising questions about whether officers should be allowed to keep their jobs if they are convicted of impaired driving.


EDMONTON - A fiery crash allegedly involving an off-duty Alberta policeman is raising questions about whether officers should be allowed to keep their jobs if they are convicted of impaired driving.

Const. Douglas Kurtis Brown, 29, of Edmonton was charged Sunday after a collision in which a teen was severely burned when the truck he was driving was broadsided by a car and burst into flames. The teen also broke a collarbone, and two others in the truck were hurt.

Brown is charged with five counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, five counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and one count of driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd said Monday that officers who are convicted of drunk driving do not necessarily lose their jobs.

"In many cases across the country, officers have been found guilty of impaired driving and impaired driving-related offences and have gone on to continue to be a police officer," said Boyd, who cautioned that he was not referring specifically to Brown's case.

"However, there have been other officers who have been charged, and given the circumstances of the cases, and the way that they are played out in the criminal courts, and in the police disciplinary processes ... (they) have been fired basically as a result of impaired driving-related charges."

Boyd was not available for comment Tuesday.

The early-morning crash in Edmonton occurred when a BMW car T-boned a pickup truck in an intersection. The truck rolled and caught on fire, trapping Robert Wasyliw, 18. He was pulled out before the truck exploded.

Brown has been suspended with pay while the RCMP and Edmonton police investigate, but there have been some calls from the public that he should be fired.

Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said he can't recall a single case in his 12 years with the organization in which a police officer remained in his job after being convicted of impaired driving that resulted in death or injury.

He fears situations such as the one in Edmonton could undermine MADD's anti-drunk driving message at a time when statistics haven't improved significantly since 1999.

About 1,400 people die every year in impaired driving crashes in Canada. Another 65,000 people suffer injuries, Murie said.

"The public's expectations of police officers is higher than the normal citizen. You would expect that a police officer would never be charged with this kind of criminal activity," Murie said from Oakville, Ont.

"If he is found guilty in this case ... I don't think he can perform his role as a police officer going forward."

But Murie added that a vast majority of police do an outstanding job.

Every fall before the holiday season, MADD launches a campaign with forces across Canada to spread the word about the need to eliminate impaired driving.

"MADD Canada would like to thank the police forces for their tireless efforts in eliminating impaired driving," the organization said in a tribute to police in a national campaign last fall. "From roadside sobriety checkpoints to promoting safe and sober driving habits, the police partnership is very important to the MADD Canada family."

It wouldn't be up to a judge to determine whether Brown remained on the force if he were convicted. Any such decision rests with the respective police service, which must adhere to the provincial Police Act, explained Staff. Sgt. Peter Ratcliff, president of the Edmonton Police Association.

The act operates under less stringent rules of evidence, he said.

"It is almost automatic that if a member in Edmonton is convicted of a criminal offence, he will be charged with a disciplinary misconduct with respect to that conviction," Ratcliff said.

It is also possible that an officer could be fired for an offence even if found not guilty in court, he said.

 
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