Baltimore County Police Drug Tests

January 22, 1991

Baltimore County's decision to begin random drug testing of its 1,581 sworn police officers and about 35 civilian employees handling sensitive law-enforcement duties is a prudent move that follows a region-wide trend.

As drugs have become more common in society, so have, regrettably, temptations. A drug-free force is a must, if police departments are to maintain the integrity of law-enforcement work and assure productive narcotics investigations.

Baltimore County's decision means every major police department in the area will soon be conducting random tests to detect drug use. Once the county program becomes operative in a few months, three people will be chosen each day for urine tests. An estimated 25 percent of the force will be tested each year. The Fraternal Order of Police, significantly, supports random testing. As its president put it, "we do not want to be perceived as drug users nor do we want to work beside someone who does (drugs)."

The danger of drug use within law enforcement agencies is multiplied these days because many successful applicants have experimented with drugs during their younger years. As long as that experimentation is deemed to have been a youthful -- and temporary -- misstep involving only "soft" drugs, police agencies are willing to overlook it. They also are often ready to turn a blind eye on many juvenile offenses so as not to hopelessly limit their pool of police recruits.

Most professional officers take their jobs and their oaths seriously. But whenever random drug testing begins, someone is bound to get caught. In Baltimore City, where testing began last spring, two of 967 officers who underwent random testing showed evidence of drug use. Neither one is with the department any longer.

Public trust in the integrity of law enforcement is served by random testing. So is the confidence of officers in colleagues as they together undertake sensitive and life-threatening assignments. When properly administered, random drug tests can only strengthen a professional police force.

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