Police chiefs seek random drug tests for officers

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The Independent Online
POLICE OFFICERS should have compulsory tests for alcohol and drug abuse, a senior police association urged yesterday. The Superintendents' Association is the first police organisation to back random testing of all ranks for drink and drugs.

Officers would have to give urine samples, and suspected abusers would be selected for tests. Those with positive results could be charged or face disciplinary action, or be given medical help. The association represents senior ranking officers in England and Wales.

The Home Office and chief constables are considering the testing of officers and yesterday's announcement, on the eve of the association's national conference near Chester, will influence those discussions.

Compulsory testing is expected to cause outrage among many rank-and- file police who will say they are being singled out for harsher treatment than other public service bodies. Few professions undergo compulsory alcohol testing, apart from aircraft and ship pilots and public transport drivers.

Chief Superintendent Peter Gammon, president of the association, said: "It's important that the police are not only clean but are seen to be clean. Police officers are on the streets making judgements, some of which are life and death. Drugs and alcohol reduce their capacity.

"The message is, don't have a drink and come on duty. And there's very limited reason for drink in the lunch hour." It is an offence to be incapable of duty through drink. Firearms officers are not allowed to go out armed if they have been drinking in the previous 24 hours.

Police are allowed to drink on duty only with the permission of a more senior officer, although drinking has always been part of the old police culture. Most forces have their own bars and a recent policy of closing them in West Yorkshire was reversed after the chief constable left. Chief Supt Gammon said setting a specific alcohol limit would not be practical, and each case would have to be judged on its merits. Supt Peter Williams, the association's national secretary, said drink was involved with the cases of many police officers facing disciplinary action.

The association said it was time to "bite the bullet" on compulsory random drug testing and all officers should be screened. Greater Manchester and Merseyside police test all recruits and applicants for sensitive posts such as firearms officers. Any officer or candidate with a positive result is rejected.The Met is considering a similar policy.

Chief Supt Gammon added: "You have to have a random system for fairness and to show you mean to get rid of any drugs problem, but there's nothing to stop you from identifying someone [suspected of drugs] and targeting them."

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, will be accused today of concentrating on "quick fix" crime solutions that hamper long-term anti-crime measures. Chief Supt Gammon will also say Mr Straw's diversion of funding to "mini- schemes" has cut the total number of beat officers by 800 in a year and he forecasts that civilian units will soon replace beat police on some patrols.

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