One cop fails Passaic drug screening; 301 tests performed under new policy
[Paterson, NJ]

Jennifer V. Hughes, Staff Writer
February 27, 2001, TUESDAY
Copyright 2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
February 27, 2001, TUESDAY

(PATERSON, N.J.) -- In the first year of mandatory random drug testing for all of Passaic County's law enforcement officers, 301 drug tests were performed with only one officer testing positive, authorities said Monday.

Passaic County Prosecutor Ronald S. Fava said personnel rules prevented him from naming the officer or the department. But in accordance with the county's policy, the officer, who tested positive for marijuana, has been fired and will be banned from any law enforcement job statewide, he said.

Fava also said five departments countywide did not test their officers in the first year, 2000, because of snags in implementing their policies. One of those that lagged behind was Paterson, one of the county's largest departments with about 440 officers. Fava said the department did its first round of testing this year, with 30 officers subjected to the surprise tests.

As for the one officer who tested positive, Fava said, "One is too many, but still, this is not a high percentage."

Passaic became the first county statewide to mandate random drug testing 1 when Fava announced the policy in September 1999 for all the county's 1,600 sworn officers. The door was opened for random drug tests in 1997 when the state Supreme Court upheld the practice for NJ Transit officers.

Since Fava's announcement, prosecutors in counties including Burlington, Mercer, Camden, and Cumberland have implemented similar policies, a spokesman with the state Attorney General's Office said.

Bergen County is considering it, authorities said.

Before the new policy, departments performed tests only if there was a reasonable suspicion of drug use. Recruits are tested before they are hired, and many officers are tested during regularly scheduled medical exams.

Fava said the program is serving its purpose.

"One, it identifies any officer who may be a substance abuser and gets them out of law enforcement," he said. "Two, it serves as a deterrent to that kind of conduct, and three, it instills confidence in the integrity of the system." The departments that have done no testing are Little Falls, Totowa, Bloomingdale, and West Paterson. In those towns, Fava said, local departments have passed the necessary guidelines, but they have not been adopted by the town governments.

"They're actively working on it," Fava said.

Little Falls Councilman Terry Ryan said the drug-testing policy has been delayed because the town is revamping all police rules and regulations and wants to incorporate the policy at the same time. Also complicating matters are contract negotiations with the police union.

Ryan, who is also the police commissioner, said he expects the policy to be enacted by the summer.

In Paterson, the president of the police union said his organization may still try to negotiate specifics of the policy, such as how officers are randomly selected, or what safeguards protect against a false positive.

"I want to know all the particulars," said Bob Smith, who heads Paterson's Policeman's Benevolent Association Local 1. "It's not a problem with random drug testing, I just want to know what safeguards are there." Fava said officers do have the option of giving two urine samples one to send for testing and another to keep to confirm accuracy.

Bergen County Prosecutor 1 William Schmidt said the program is worthwhile, but his office is still considering it. He said his county is more complicated because of the sheer number of officers, about 3,000.

"With 70 municipalities, this is going to take a significant effort, "he said. "Everyone has to understand, cooperate, and be onboard before we undertake something like this."

In addition, Schmidt said, there are many more small towns in Bergen County with smaller departments, where officers would be tested more often than those in larger departments.

Fava's policy mandates that the local departments in Passaic County give urine tests to 20 percent of their sworn officers each year.

At least two rounds of tests must be done annually. In the first year, state forfeiture funds paid for the tests , which he said run about $ 12each, but from this year on, each department must foot the bill.

The Passaic County Sheriff's Department went far beyond Fava's mandate, doing 20 rounds of tests for a total of 119 officers. The Clifton Police Department came in second, with a total of 40 officers tested in two rounds.

Lt. Frank Brady of the Sheriff's Department said his boss supported the program wholeheartedly. The cost, he said, is "money well spent." "Obviously if you're a law enforcement officer, you shouldn't be using drugs," said Brady, who added that he was tested twice. "I have no problem with it, and I think most people in law enforcement would say the same thing."

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