By Tanya Eiserer
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — The Dallas Police Department recently made changes to its hiring rules to relax standards related to drug use.
The 3,180-member department, which is on a major push to beef up the force, is trying to compete in a highly competitive job market.
Previously, some limited past marijuana use was allowed, but individuals who had used drugs such as cocaine or heroin even once could not be hired.
The new policy, which is similar to the one used by the FBI, allows the department to consider hiring applicants who have used small amounts of such drugs on an experimental basis in the distant past.
"It gives us a standard used by what some people think is the most professional law enforcement agency in the country," Police Chief David Kunkle said.
Before Chief Kunkle was hired in 2004, Dallas had struggled with flawed practices that resulted in the hiring of officers with questionable pasts and criminal histories. Some fear that the new policy amounts to a lowering of the Police Department’s hiring standards.
"I understand that the department is trying to account for the changing values of society, but I think there are still plenty of good quality candidates without having to allow experimental" use of cocaine, heroin or other serious drugs, said Lt. Rick Andrews, head of the Dallas Police Executive Lodge.
"It speaks to your character, or lack thereof," he said. "I think there’s potential there for less-than-acceptable behavior to creep in."
Police commanders say they remain committed to hiring the best people.
"We're adapting to today's society," said Deputy Chief Floyd Simpson, who commands the department’s recruiting efforts. He said he believes the department should consider people who have used certain drugs on an experimental basis, perhaps during their college years, but have gone on to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
"We think those people still have value,” Chief Simpson said. “We think that they ought to be able to apply."
Getting a handle on what police agencies allow and won’t allow with regard to drug use is difficult because some are reluctant to discuss the specifics of their standards.
Houston officials declined to discuss it at all. Arlington police officials said they would consider candidates who have used marijuana or other illegal substances, such as cocaine, depending on circumstances that include how long ago the use occurred, the amount of the drug used and the number of times the drug was used.
"We prefer not to release the specifics on our policy," Arlington police spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said. “We depend on the integrity of the candidate and the process. Our recruiters look at each case individually."
Dallas police officials also requested that the amount of use and the length of time not be published.
Last fiscal year, Dallas hired about 335 officers, which included replacing about 175 officers who left through attrition. During this fiscal year, the department is trying to hire about 375 people, with an expected attrition number of about 175.
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas PD eases hiring rules on drug use