Questionable Drug Testing

September 29, 1994

It will be up to a federal court jury to decide whether Eric Carroll, formerly a police officer in the city of Westminster, is entitled to collect damages for his dismissal from the police force in the Carroll County seat. But the events leading up to his firing, which are alleged in the lawsuit, suggest that Westminster needs to tighten its drug testing procedures.

The police department has a right to test its employees for drug BTC use, even those like Mr. Carroll who had a sterling record. However, it appears that in Mr. Carroll's case the department followed a number of questionable practices that jeopardized the test's findings.

Mr. Carroll alleges the department asked its physician to obtain a urine sample from him under false pretenses. If the department wants urine samples for drug testing, it must be forthright with its employees. Random spot testing is perfectly acceptable. There is no need to secretly obtain samples for testing.

More important, if what Mr. Carroll alleges is true, the police department violated fundamental principles in obtaining evidence. According to Mr. Carroll's account, no one witnessed him providing the initial sample. It is also unclear that Mr. Carroll's urine was segregated from other samples taken from the doctor's patients. Because of the sloppy handling of Mr. Carroll's initial urine sample, there is no way of knowing for certain whether the urine sample was his.

Police departments are well-versed in the nuances of the chain of custody of evidence in criminal cases, but it appears that the department violated a number of basic tenets that preserve the integrity of the urine samples.

Considering the drastic consequences of failing a drug test -- dismissal from the police force and a ruined reputation -- the department must follow practices that eliminate any doubt about whose sample is being tested. Under the conditions Mr. Carroll describes, the department's drug testing creates enough questions to make the program worthless.

If the city of Westminster's police department continues to test employees for illegal drug use, it should create a set of written procedures that eliminate any ambiguity about the origin and handling of the sample.

As long as they follow the procedures to the letter, the department shouldn't have to worry about future lawsuits in federal court.

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