Cop Gets Job Back Despite Drug Test

Cop Gets Job Back Despite Drug Test
Posted by FoM on February 10, 2000 at 08:05:57 PT
By Steve Mills, Tribune Staff Writer
Source: Chicago Tribune
For the first time since the Chicago Police Department started random drug-testing of officers nearly a decade ago as part of its zero-tolerance policy, an officer who failed a test has gotten his job back and returned to duty, department officials said.Detective Thomas Ward tested positive for marijuana during a random drug test in June 1997. He said he had unintentionally smoked a cigar laced with marijuana.
But Supt. Terry Hillard rejected that explanation and recommended that Ward be fired. After a hearing, the Chicago Police Board agreed and voted in December 1998 to kick Ward off the force, saying he had violated three departmental rules, according to board documents.Ward, then off the force, appealed the police board's decision in Cook County Circuit Court. In September, Judge Stephen Schiller ordered the board to reconsider its decision in light of Ward's 20-year career, which includes the Blue Star Award for valor and numerous commendations.Then in December, the Police Board, in a split decision, reduced Ward's discipline and allowed him to return to active patrol. It said that his time off the force--roughly 19 months--would constitute a suspension.Hillard and city attorneys plan to go back to Circuit Court to appeal the Police Board's decision and force Ward from the department, according to officials.Hillard, like superintendents before him, has maintained a zero-tolerance policy that calls for dismissal of any officer using illegal drugs."The superintendent's position on this is pretty clear. We're held to a higher standard, and you can't have them doing this sort of thing," said police spokesman Pat Camden. "You've got people carrying guns. You can't have them getting high."The police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, also works hard to distance itself from officers who test positive for illegal drugs. It refuses to pay for attorneys to defend the officers in such cases, said President William J. Nolan."If somebody is involved in that, then we don't get involved," he said. "If they're using drugs, then they should be off the job."For the department, Ward's return to the force is viewed as a setback for the zero-tolerance police, particularly in battling drug use in the community.Officers are screened for narcotics when they are hired, promoted, assigned to sensitive positions such as in the narcotics section, or when there is "probable cause," according to officials.Since the random tests began in 1991, when then-Supt. LeRoy Martin initiated it, nearly 32,000 city officers have been tested, Camden said, with random selection done by a computer selecting Social Security numbers.Positive test results have come back on 125 officers of various ranks, and the superintendent's office moved immediately to fire them, Camden said. None of those officers remains on the force. They either resigned in the face of departmental charges, or were fired, according to Camden, and Ward's case is not expected to affect their status.The department also has tested nearly 11,000 more officers when they were moved to new positions. Ninety-nine officers had positive tests, and none of those officers is still with the department, Camden said.The number of officers testing positive for drugs has declined over the years, which the department considers proof that its tough policy is effective. Officers are told of the zero-tolerance rule before they start work.At the start of the random-testing program, 1.5 percent of the tests were positive. The overall figure now is .39 percent, according to Camden."There has been a very small number of officers coming back with positive tests," he said. "Our people know they'll get caught."Angela Thomas, a Law Department attorney, said that city lawyers representing the superintendent would take the Ward case back to Circuit Court first and, if the city loses there, on to the Illinois Appellate Court."We plan to continue to fight this case," she said.Thomas suggested that the Police Board might have misunderstood Schiller's ruling, taking his order to consider Ward's work history in determining his punishment as a directive to reduce his punishment.Ward joined the department in 1980, according to police records. He was awarded the department's Blue Star Award for a New Year's Eve 1987 incident on the West Side in which he was shot and seriously wounded when he and a partner answered a call for a domestic disturbance.Ward has received seven department commendations and 90 honorable mentions, according to Camden.Ward could not be reached for comment. According to the department, he has been assigned to the Calumet Area detective headquarters on the South Side, but officials there said he had been assigned to Belmont Area detective headquarters on the North Side.Ward's attorney, Tamara Cummings, declined to comment on the case because it still is in litigation.Published: February 10, 2000Copyright Chicago TribuneCannabisNews Articles On Police Topics:
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