At one point, she was the face of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police department's Uptown anti-drunk driving campaign. Officer Karen Dula did television interviews on local stations in 2006 advising center city bar hoppers not to drive drunk. As part of the program, Dula and other officers carried breathalyzers with them, encouraging people to check their blood alcohol level before driving.
At the time, Dula told WSOC-TV that the new program would help make people aware of how much they've had to drink.
"A lot of people don't realize that they're over the limit," Dula said. "They'll think, 'You know what? Maybe now I know that four beers is too much for me to drive.'"
It made waves when Dula, then 27, was arrested -- in Uptown of all places -- by the state highway patrol at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 11 for driving drunk. Dula was pulled over for an expired tag, and administered a breathalyzer because she smelled of alcohol. She blew a .11. The legal limit in North Carolina is .08.
It goes without saying that Dula, of all people, should have known better. One media outlet even assumed the incident would end her career in law enforcement and that she would resign or be forced to quit.
"It is unfortunate that a member of the CMPD has been arrested for driving while impaired, but we will continue to hold our officers responsible for their actions on and off-duty," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said in a statement released in January.
But last week, a department spokesperson confirmed that Dula was not only still working for the department, but was working as a patrol officer in the department's Metro division, which covers Uptown. That means she can ticket and arrest other drivers for breaking the law, including for drunk driving. Adding further insult to irony is the fact that Dula, who lost her license for 30 days, had to go to court to get her driving privileges reinstated during work hours so she could drive to and from work -- and drive her patrol car. Her next court date is in July.
While there are department policies forbidding conduct that is unbecoming of an officer, no rule prohibits the continued employment of officers who get caught driving drunk. No code of conduct specifies exactly what should happen to them.
Last month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Martray Proctor plowed into Shatona Evette Robinson's Ford Escort doing more than 90 mph, killing her. Proctor was headed down Old Statesville Road while on duty to help another officer with a routine traffic stop, a common practice.
He did not have his lights on or his siren activated, as officers must when they exceed the posted speed limit according to state law and department policy. Proctor was doing more than twice the 45 mph speed limit. The Charlotte Observer reported that Proctor had racked up tickets for substantial violations of speed limits in his spare time. But there's no department rule that specifies what happens when officers do that, either.
But these recent incidents pale in comparison to one in January 2002. The department had just begun publicizing a new anti-domestic violence campaign around the time that Officer Gina Cook drove her K-9 unit patrol vehicle to her ex-girlfriend's apartment and kicked down the door when the woman refused to let her in.
The ex-girlfriend, another Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, had been asleep with a third woman, whom Cook attacked. When the former girlfriend tried to stop the attack by putting herself between Cook and the other woman, Cook punched her in the face and head several times before throwing her on the bed and strangling her until she couldn't breathe.
"I know she can't breathe," Cook said when the third woman pointed out that the former girlfriend was struggling for air, according to an internal police report on the incident. After the attack, Cook drove away from the scene in her patrol vehicle.
Cook was given deferred prosecution for two charges of communicating threats and an assault charge. The breaking-and-entering charge against her was dismissed by the judge. At the time, police spokesperson Keith Bridges said Cook was "disciplined," but that the department has no plans to terminate her. What sort of discipline she received from the department is unknown because personnel records aren't available to the media.
Seven months after the incident, Cook was not only still employed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, she was also the subject of a full-page personal profile in the Charlotte City Employees' June newsletter, which is distributed to thousands of city employees. The piece chronicled Cook's rise to the highly competitive K-9 unit in near-heroic, glowing terms.
Therein lies the problem. In this economy, surely the police department can find officer candidates without this kind of baggage to police the rest of us. The rules governing our behavior are clear. The department's rules governing their own officers should be, too.