Court Upholds Hair-Drug Tests for NYPD

Officials note a 90-day window for detecting drugs in hair samples, compared to about three days with urine

By Hasani Gittens
|  Thursday, Dec 17, 2009  |  Updated 2:00 PM EDT
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Court Upholds Hair-Drug Tests for NYPD

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It's probably in the public's best interest that drug testing on cops be as thorough as possible.

Officer, put down that bong.

New York's top court today upheld random drug testing of New York City police officers through hair samples, a method considered much more effective than urine tests.

The court rejected police union arguments that any expanded use of the hair testing would have required contract negotiations.

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the police commissioner's disciplinary authority gives him discretion to choose both the scientific method and the circumstances that prompt testing in the department.

"The detection and deterrence of wrongdoing within the NYPD — particularly crimes, such as illegal drug use — is a crucial component of the police commissioner's responsibility to maintain discipline within the force," Judge Susan Read wrote. The other five judges agreed, reversing a midlevel court.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Thursday the department, which has 35,000 uniformed members, was barred from doing hair analysis while the case was on appeal.

Read rejected the unions' argument that specific methods were subject to collective bargaining, concluding the investigatory measures the commissioner deems most effective are "inextricably intertwined" with his drug testing authority.

Earlier NYPD procedures for uniformed officers called for checking either urine or hair samples of those "reasonably suspected of illegal drug use," testing all officers at the end of their probationary periods and random testing from an automated database.

A 2005 internal department personnel message said hair testing would be used in place of urine analysis in random testing, as well as in screening for promotions and assignments to specialized units.

It noted a 90-day window for detecting drugs in hair samples, compared to about three days with urine, and said drug users couldn't evade detection by substituting someone else's sample. Hair samples can come from any where on the body.

Unions representing detectives, sergeants, patrolmen and captains filed petitions claiming an improper labor practice. A city board upheld their claims, but a state judge in 2007 disagreed. The detectives' and sergeants' unions pursued the case to the top court.

Senior counsel Julian Kalkstein, who represented the city, said Thursday's ruling affects random testing of all NYPD officers and should conclude the case.

"To ensure sobriety by the department for its own safety and to instill confidence in the community, we wanted to be able to use hair testing," he said.

Calls to lawyers for the unions were not immediately returned.

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