Drug-test plan gets a warm welcome Balto. Co. police begin in March

January 09, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff Monica Norton, Norris P. West, Bruce Reid and Jay Merwin contributed to this story.

The Baltimore County Police Department took a full year to come up with the random drug-testing policy that will begin in mid-March.

To George Hokemeyer, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, the time was well spent.

"We feel this is a very good policy," Hokemeyer said yesterday, after the department announced the testing plan. "We were part of the process from the beginning. All our concerns have been addressed."

The policy is fair, Hokemeyer said, because it applies to all officers, from the lowest ranking patrolman to the chief of police. And the testing is sensitive, in that it doesn't demean those who are asked to submit to it, he said.

The new drug-testing policy adds to the 5-year-old practice of having applicants, new cadets and officers seeking promotion submit to a urinalysis test for illegal drugs, said county police spokesman E. Jay Miller.

The county joins police departments in Baltimore and Anne Arundel and Howard counties in implementing random testing.

Harford County has no random testing for sheriff's deputies, although they undergo testing before being hired. They then are subject to tests afterward only in the event of a fatal or serious accident.

In Carroll County, the Westminster police test all applicants for drugs, while the Sheriff's Department is considering drug tests for applicants.

"It's a sign of the times," said Col. Charles Fowler of the Carroll Sheriff's Department.

Under Baltimore County's 10-page policy, copies of which will be given to all officers Friday, officers will be tested four days each week, Tuesday through Friday.

Of some 1,600 officers subject to the tests, three officers will be chosen each day to submit to the tests. Their names will be generated randomly from a computer list of all officers, said Miller.

An officer will not know of the test until he reports for work that day, said Col. Jerry L. Blevins, commander of the administrative services bureau.

Once notified that a test is required, the officer must report to the department's affirmative action office on Susquehanna Avenue in Towson before the end of his or her shift, said Blevins.

The testing facility will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., so it will overlap each work shift, he said.

The county has its own drug-testing equipment and has a technician to operate it, he said.

"We will not do observed testing," said Blevins. "We will use a privacy curtain."

As a safeguard to the officers against tampering, the officer who provides the sample seals the container, Blevins added.

An officer who refuses to provide a sample will be subject to immediate suspension, the policy states.

However, Blevins said, a positive reading will not mean an automatic suspension or dismissal.

"We will look at everyone on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Miller said that in the five years since cadets and applicants have been routinely tested, only one person, a cadet from a 1986 class, failed the drug test.

"We've only had one hit," he said. "That was for marijuana."

Besides cadets and officers seeking promotion, the old policy applied to vice, narcotics and internal affairs officers, Miller said.

Hokemeyer said his union membership welcomes the testing.

"As far as a drug problem, I don't see that we have a drug problem" in the department, he said. "Nor do I envision a problem. But we do not want anyone working with us, or near us, who is using drugs."

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