Random Drug Testing Begins for City Firefighters!

Random Drug Testing Begins for City Firefighters!
Posted by FoM on February 20, 1999 at 12:24:29 PT

Columbus officials and union representatives say the testing helps reassure the public.Years after becoming common in high schools and businesses, random drug-and-alcohol testing starts this year for about 3,100 Columbus police officers and firefighters.
No officers have taken urinalysis tests yet under a police contract provision that took effect Jan. 1. Some firefighters began taking random drug tests last month.City officials and representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 still are completing implementation procedures. Both sides have known of the tests since June 1997, when the current three- year contract was ratified."Our officers don't want to work with anyone who has substance-abuse problems,'' FOP President Bill Capretta said. "It's not even safe.''Some officers who voted against the contract in 1997 said they had reservations over interpretation and use of results.Columbus sought the random tests for police and firefighters, a nationwide trend for cities, said Gayle Saunders, executive assistant for Safety Director Thomas W. Rice."This is just ensuring that our officers are doing the right thing. We know they are,'' Saunders said.The Fire Division began drug testing in Januaryand has been testing one or two firefighters daily, Battalion Chief Mike Fultz said."It's a little bit of a nuisance. Your day is screwed up a bit, but they don't mind being tested for the most part because, for the most part, they're clean.''Under a provision of the contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67, no more than 25 percent of union members will be tested in a year, Fultz said. Through Tuesday, no one has tested positive for any substances out of about 60 firefighters selected at random, he said."The taxpayers have a right to a clean-and-sober public-safety force,'' said Local 67 President Nick Quelette.The firefighters union represents about 1,450 firefighters.Firefighters have a similar selection, treatment and disciplinary process for their drug testing as does the Police Division.Under the FOP contract, no more than 15 percent of union members within the division will be tested in a given year. The Police Division has about 1,700 officers.A computer will select on-duty of ficers using badge or Social Security numbers, Capretta said. Those chosen will be told during roll call to report immediately for testing.The current plan calls for a mobile testing station to move from precinct to precinct, Capretta said.An officer can be tested just once in a given year, he said.Those who are on leave, on vacation or absent are excused but remain eligible to be picked again for testing.Disciplinary measures outlined in the contract for those who test positive are fair, Capretta said.Officers who test positive for illegal controlled substances, such as LSD, will be fired.Written reprimands and one- day suspensions can result for those testing positive for alcohol the first or second time, depending on the content level and if they cooperate with treatment, counseling, additional testing and other requirements. Those who do not cooperate with those requirements can be fired.Repeat offenders whose samples test above a 0.09 blood-alcohol level can be fired. Those who refuse to cooperate with a test can be fired. In Ohio, 0.10 is the legal definition of being drunk.Union members can appeal test results. Treatment and rehabilitation costs are covered under the city's insurance plan.Capretta assumes no one on the force will test positive, he said."That would be our hope, that none of our officers have it,'' he said.Random drug testing shouldn't be considered an invasion of privacy, said a Columbus patrol officer who asked not to be named."I don't care either way,'' he said recently. "If you think about it, the construction companies have drug testing. Why shouldn't we?''On a large police force, some officers may take drugs, he said."You never know, but I don't know any personally.''All officers had to be tested before being hired by the city."Why should it bother me? It doesn't bother me at all. We all like to think we're clean,'' said a sergeant who asked not to be identified.Since June 1990, two officers have been disciplined after being charged administratively with possession of or purchase of alcohol or drugs, said Sgt. Earl Smith, police division spokesman.Fultz said Fire Division records show no firefighters have been disciplined for drug or alcohol abuse in recent years.Random testing of 1,000 police and 1,700 firefighters is being considered in Cleveland. Cincinnati police have had random testing for two years.The Ohio Highway Patrol has tested its traffic and drug-enforcement officers for several years.Public agencies and private businesses nationwide started random drug testing, along with counseling and treatment, as a means to discourage employee drug abuse.Testing positive has meant demotions or firings for some firefighters and officers in some municipalities. In some instances, those employees were reinstated after filing lawsuits or completing rehabilitation programs. Other cities expanded tests to include all workers.In Augusta, Ga., for example, 14 city workers were fired after testing positive under a zero-tolerance drug policy last year, The Augusta Chron icle reported. Roughly 1,400 of the city's 2,600 employees were tested since the program began in 1996.
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