The arrest of a Bakersfield police officer suspected of using methamphetamine last week has stirred up questions about how law enforcement police their own for possible drug use.
Ofelio Lopez, 36, was arrested on drug charges Dec. 2 after police said they found meth in the pocket of the uniform pants he was wearing.
Question: why doesn't the police department randomly test officers for drugs.
Detective Todd Dickson, president of the Bakersfield Police Officers Association, said Bakersfield officers or the union are not against random drug testing, but the idea has not come up in the time he's worked for the BPD, since 1995.
No changes to the police department's drug testing policy are in the works.
BPD spokeswoman Sgt. Mary DeGeare said the department follows the guidelines set out in a California government code pertaining to public safety officers and the provisions of the MOU between the local association and the city.
"There aren't any immediate plans to make any changes," DeGeare said.
Taking the test
Drug testing policies for police and sheriffs' departments vary across California, depending on what agencies' unions and cities or counties negotiate. Locally, the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff's Department test their officers during the hiring process. After that, officers are tested again only if there is reasonable suspicion that they are using drugs. California Highway Patrol Lt. Paul Vincent said the policy is the same for highway patrol officers.
Unless provisions for random testing are included in an agency's contract, "any drug testing (of officers) would have to be via reasonable suspicion or probable cause," according to Harry Stern, an attorney at Rains Lucia Stern, PC, a California firm that specializes in representing officers.
"Keep in mind that peace officers, like anybody else, enjoy constitutional protections while they are at work," Stern said.
Investigators set a snare for Lopez, planting a purse containing meth released from the department's property room in a remote city location on Dec. 2, police said. Lopez was sent to retrieve the purse, but instead of booking the bag and drugs into evidence, he kept it, police said.
When Lopez returned to work a DUI checkpoint that evening and still failed to check in the purse, police searched Lopez, his car and his home, police have reported. Officers found the purse, meth, brass knuckles and drug paraphernalia in the form of a smoking pipe, according to the search warrant.
Former New York Police Department officer Eugene O'Donnell, now a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said "I know police officers are human, but a police officer that has a meth problem and is legally able to carry a drug is such a danger," .
"It's real hard to argue against drug testing because the stakes are really high," O'Donnell said. "You can't do illegal drugs without doing other illegal things."
He said departments are "flirting with disaster at some point" if they don't randomly test their officers.
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