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Many of us face drug tests when we apply for a job, even though it might not always be legal. Some states are drug testing welfare recipients with little to show for it but the bill. And athletes are drug tested seemingly around the clock, and can even be suspended for taking legal substances.
But what about police officers? Surely, the men and women we trust to make snap judgments in life-and-death scenarios are tested regularly for any drug or substance that might affect those decisions, right? The answer might actually surprise you.
While policies can vary from state to state and department to department, generally speaking, police officers are only drug tested when applying to the force. Some jurisdictions require testing in a handful of special circumstances, like after discharging a weapon or being involved in a vehicle crash, but even those are inconsistent across the board.
Highlighting the illogic in having comprehensive drug-testing regimes for athletes, including penalties based on positive tests for both illegal and performance-affecting drugs, and the lack of similar testing for law enforcement officers, Shaun King of the New York Daily News points out:
More than almost any non-athletic profession in America, policing, particularly in the field, requires a serious level of focus, acuity, agility, coordination and fitness. Unlike athletes, police officers are armed and deputized to use lethal force whenever they feel it is required to do their job safely. Unlike athletes, police also face a heavily armed society. Drug use -- be it cocaine, marijuana, steroids, HGH or even alcohol -- could seriously impact an officer's performance.
Although the reasons for drug testing cops are different than those for testing athletes, they are arguably more compelling. King also links the high rate of steroid use among officers and the high rate of domestic violence involving police officers -- the highest among any profession.
Post-Incident Testing Proscribed
Even with increased public scrutiny of police-involved shootings, the current drug-testing landscape is unlikely to change. When Pittsburgh recently tried to drug test police officers involved in chases, the union representing the officers filed a civil rights grievance against the city, claiming the testing amounted to illegal search and seizure in violation of the officers' constitutional rights.
Despite the reasons for increased police officer drug testing, it looks like current testing procedures are here to stay.