Drug Test for Hub Officers Stirs Bias Fear

Drug Test for Hub Officers Stirs Bias Fear
Posted by CN Staff on June 22, 2002 at 18:42:12 PT
By Francie Latour, Globe Staff
Source: Boston Globe
In the three years since the Boston Police Department began a random, mandatory drug test based on hair samples, nearly twice as many minority officers have tested positive for drugs as their white counterparts, prompting advocates for the officers to question whether the test is racially biased. According to figures released by the department yesterday, 45 officers have tested positive for drugs, 2 percent of the 2,178-member force. All officers are tested annually, but at random times.
Of those 45 officers, 16, or more than one-third, were white, while nearly two-thirds of those testing positive were minorities. Of the 29 blacks and Hispanics who tested positive, the vast majority, 26, were black. No Asians have tested positive for drug use.In an interview yesterday, Commissioner Paul F. Evans stressed that the number of officers testing positive was small. He said he would not comment on the high number of black officers testing positive for drug use, mostly cocaine.''The numbers are what the numbers are,'' Evans said. ''Ninety-six percent of my minority officers all passed the test.''But in a department where non-whites make up just one-third of the department, the lopsided numbers have led the NAACP and the department's association of minority officers to challenge the hair test's validity, citing studies which have shown that the dark color and texture of black hair react differently than light hair in drug tests.Advocates for the officers contend that darker hair tends to absorb and retain drug substances in higher concentrations, including drugs they may have been exposed to on the job or elsewhere, increasing the chance for false positives.Also, they argue, because drug residue remains in darker hair longer than lighter hair, officers with lighter hair who have used drugs may escape detection.A 2001 study by the Center for Human Toxicology at the University of Utah showed that drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines, can accumulate in higher concentrations, binding to the melanin pigment in the hair of rats. In 1995, a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded that dark hair absorbed drug residue from the air more intensely, creating opportunities for false positive results.But recent studies of narcotics officers in Miami, who are exposed to drugs routinely, showed no disparities among light- and dark-haired officers in connection with drug use.In Boston, no officers in the drug control unit have tested positive for drugs.The controversy over the hair-based drug tests, fueled by competing scientific research, has led dozens of blacks in law enforcement, the military, and other fields nationwide to cry foul after they were fired or denied employment based on the results of hair-based drug tests.In Chicago, seven black applicants to the police department sued the city, saying they received false positive tests. They lost in court.So far in Boston, 14 of the department's 552 black officers have resigned or been fired for drug test violations. The fates of three more hang in the balance, after they refused the department's policy of drug treatment and suspension following a first offense.''We're not naive enough to think there are no minority officers out there doing something stupid,'' said Larry Brown, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.Brown said he supports the concept of random drug testing of officers. The current policy, which tests all officers randomly inside a 60-day window around their birthday, was hard-won by the department, agreed to by the unions in exchange for millions of dollars in salary and benefit increases under the education incentive program known as the Quinn Bill.Brown also said he personally vouched for some of the black officers, insisting, as they do, that they are drug-free. Referring to research by the University of Utah and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Brown said, ''I find it hard to believe that nothing outside of ingesting cocaine will give you a false positive. There must be some question as to whether it has an adverse impact.''Leonard Alkins, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, who along with Brown met with Evans earlier this month to debate the validity of the test, compared the disparities in positive drug tests by race to disparities in hiring and promotional exam scores when blacks first entered the department.In both cases, Alkins said, the disproportionate numbers raise a red flag about the test. ''It just does not make sense that black people have more of a drug problem than white people,'' Alkins said. ''You are putting a person in a position where, if they don't sign that paper and take a suspension and agree to drug treatment, you will be fired.''Evans said yesterday he was willing to examine any evidence presented by Brown's organization or the NAACP that refutes the validity of the hair test. But with a follow-up test and a high threshold for a positive result, police officials said the chances of false positives were next to impossible.''The way our hair testing is done, there is an amount of cocaine that has to be present, and it has to be over a certain level,'' said Alicia McDonnell, an attorney for the department.In order to reach that threshold, McDonnell said, requires ''repeated use of cocaine over a period of time. You cannot consume enough cocaine in one sitting to test positive. You would die of a heart attack first.''Many law enforcement agencies and the federal government continue to use urine tests to detect illegal drug use, including the Massachusetts State Police. But Boston's police department is one of dozens that have begun using the more stringent hair test since the early 1990s. Police departments in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago also use hair samples to test officers.Because human hair can reveal drug use dating back as far as three months, the use of hair is widely considered to be superior to urine, which only keeps traces of drugs for about three days. The hair tests not only look for the presence of drugs, but for unique byproducts that people produce after ingesting drugs.Bill Thistle, vice president and general counsel for Psychemedics Corp. of Cambridge, a leader in hair testing, dismissed past studies connecting dark hair and greater drug concentrations as bogus.''The concept that someone will get drugs in their hair because of their race is asinine,'' he said. He said the studies cited by the minority police officer's group either only tested animals, such as rats, or tested a small number of humans in artificial circumstances.This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/22/2002.Source: Boston Globe (MA)Author: Francie Latour, Globe StaffPublished: June 22, 2002Copyright: 2002 Globe Newspaper CompanyContact: letter globe.comWebsite: Article:US Oks Test for Detecting Marijuana in Hair Drug Testing Archives
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Comment #1 posted by p4me on June 22, 2002 at 19:47:25 PT
Am I disturbing the peace?
It is very quite on the boards today. I was reading where someone got arrested for disturbing the peace when he turned his back on Dubya when he read his speech at a graduation ceremony in Ohio. I read that in the Patriot Act it is illegal to try to change any federal policy which basicly outlaws dissent. Anyway here is another article about the 124,000 children who have lost their parents to prison over drugs while noone in the CIA is ever prosecuted for trafficking in cocaine and heroin. One site that you do not see mentioned hear much is guerilla news: They have a 6 minute video of the CIA and drugs with Mike Ruppert testifying to the CIA director in LA about the CIA's involvement with cocaine.Here is the story out of New York.,2
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