North County Times, January 24, 2010
The National Basketball Association is in the spotlight for an incident involving guns and taking heat from some observers. The way the NBA has dealt with the incident, however, forms a stark contrast to the way government deals with cases of misconduct, even those involving guns.
In a high-profile case, Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards brought guns into his team’s locker room, a reckless and dangerous act for which he apologized and joked. It was no joke for NBA commissioner David Stern, who suspended Arenas indefinitely, without pay.
The commissioner is on record that Arenas’ conduct “has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game.” He could face a lifetime ban, and the commissioner may also fine some of Arenas’ teammates, who indulged in joking about the gun incident.
According to some reports, Wizards player Javaris Crittenton also brought a gun into the locker room, and may face severe penalties. Those who believe the NBA coddles star athletes might contrast Stern’s measures with the way the San Diego Police Department dealt with one of its own.
In August, Christine Thurston, an off-duty San Diego police officer, “waved her service gun while falling-down drunk” at a bar in Carlsbad, according to a news report. Carlsbad police found the police officer, a 23-year-old rookie, “disoriented, barely able to stand and mumbling incoherently.” Thurston, “held her gun aloft while trying to buy a drink,” but she was only cited for public drunkenness, not for brandishing the gun. That would require that she display the weapon in a “rude, angry or threatening way,” according to Carlsbad police cited in a news report.
Thurston doubtless received lenient treatment because she is a woman and a police officer. One may be fairly certain that a 40-year-old drunken male civilian waving a gun in a bar would have been handled more severely. Such a person could reasonably expect to be dismissed from his job. The San Diego Police Department did not dismiss Thurston for her drunken antics. Rather, she was placed on administrative leave.
When a police department or government agency puts an officer on paid administrative leave, the officer performs none of the duties for which she or he was hired. That does not enhance public safety, and taxpayers are on the hook for any salary and benefits they continue to receive.
This arrangement is part of the privileged status increasingly enjoyed by government employees. Their pensions are often far more generous than anything in the private sector, and are now straining budgets in California. Protection from dismissal is another part of privileged status.
Thurston eventually resigned. Arenas will not be paid until he plays again, and that may be a while, if ever.
In the NBA, a private operation, Arenas earns $16.2 million a year because he is a talented player and people are willing to pay to watch him play. His suspension for the gun caper will cost him $197,000 a game. That is a lot of money, but no taxpayer funds are involved.
To level the playing field, police departments and government agencies should look into the concept of unpaid leaves, at least for drunken gun-waving officers and employees. Government employee unions won’t like it, but the vast majority of Americans are not members of such unions, and their union bosses are not subject to a public vote.
Governments are supposed to operate under the rule of law, not political correctness, which also affects the NBA. Gilbert Arenas’ team used to be called the Washington Bullets, but that was considered too politically incorrect. If they really wanted to clean up the name, they could have dropped “Washington” from the title.