Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has defended officers who arrest drivers with blood alcohol levels below the legal limit, says the Washington Post. Amid growing criticism of the department’s “zero tolerance” policy, he insisted that officers continue to be able to use their discretion. “We do have a policy that if a person is driving a motor vehicle and appears to be impaired in any way, then they can certainly be charged and tried for driving under the influence,” Ramsey said. Some D.C. Council offices were swamped with angry calls and e-mails about the police department’s little-known zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving.
One officer, Dennis Fair, said D.C. law gave him the authority to arrest drivers with as little as a .01 blood alcohol level. “If you get behind the wheel of a car with any measurable amount of alcohol, you will be dealt with in D.C,” Fair said. “We have zero tolerance.” In May, he arrested a 45-year-old lawyer and single mother of two after she said — and a breath test confirmed — she’d had a glass of wine with dinner. Fair pulled her over after she left a parking garage without her headlights on. Ramsey does not use the term “zero tolerance.” Fair is “wrong if he’s saying that,” Ramsey said. “It’s not coming from me, and that’s certainly no policy I’ve instituted. That’s just incorrect.” Until a Washington Post article about the lawyer’s arrest appeared, the D.C. police department’s Web site said: “Technically, according to the D.C. Code, the District of Columbia has a zero tolerance for driving under the influence,” and an adult driver with a blood alcohol level as low as .02 and “extremely bad driving” could be arrested. The term “zero tolerance” has since been removed from the site.