STATE OF NEW JERSEY CRACKS DOWN ON OFF-DUTY OFFICERS WITH DWI’S
Off-duty N.J. State Police will no longer be able to drive drunk with impunity. The State Police Superintendent has ordered strict policies on alcohol-related motor vehicle incidents involving troopers and launched an extensive review on the use of undercover identification cards. The order was distributed to the command staff of the 2,900-member force and it came one day after a newspaper article revealed an alleged cover-up of a trooper’s violent highway accident in Camden County in 2009. Detective Sgt. William Billingham, an undercover trooper who carried a false identity, rear-ended Philadelphia resident Clayton Tanksley while off-duty and driving an unmarked trooper car, according to internal State Police memos.
He was not suspended or charged until two years after the accident, and prosecutors now say he was drunk at the time of the crash. Billingham’s fellow troopers put his undercover information on the accident report and forwarded it to Tanksley’s insurance company, sending him and his lawyer on a fruitless search to recoup thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Billingham’s lawyer said he is pleading not guilty to the charge of assault by auto, the only charge arising from the case. Ocean County prosecutors are handling the case because Billingham’s brother is the sheriff in Camden County.
The superintendent’s memo represents a new effort to discourage misconduct and weed out alcohol-related incidents, which have prompted embarrassment for the State Police. It also increases accountability for ranking officers, requiring them to carefully review motor vehicle stops and accidents in which alcohol use is suspected.
Recent alcohol-related incidents have been an embarrassment for the N.J. State Police. Last month, an administrative law judge recommended a seven-month license suspension for trooper Sheila McKaig. Trooper McKaig was caught drinking and driving on three separate occasions in Atlantic County, Hamilton Towbnship. The Hamilton Township Police Department did not issue her a DWI or any other tickets. After her third DWI stop, fellow troopers picked her up at the Hamilton Township, Atlantic County, police station. Her superiors simply referred her to counseling without taking any disciplinary action. She later faced internal charges after an anonymous letter alleged a cover-up.
Trooper McKaig received the benefit of a double-standard in Atlantic County, NJ, in DWI enforcement. The police departments in Atlantic County, including Hamilton Township Police Department, are strict in the enforcement of DWI laws. It appears that Trooper McKaig received professional courtesy from her fellow law enforcement officers and avoided 3 separate arrests for DWI.