Should NJ Drug Test Police Officers?
For those who believe that police officers in New Jersey should be required to undertake random drug testing, it is a matter of accountability. They say that a lack of oversight is responsible for increased potential for harm to citizens and can cost the taxpayers millions of dollars a year as a result.
One report found that about 1.4 million people in New Jersey are served by an estimated 113 police departments that do not require drug testing for officers. And it is not just something that may put citizens at risk when police officers drive or otherwise attempt to perform their duties while under the influence – it puts the lives of the officers at risk as well.
In one case, it took the death of a police captain who died in a car accident caused by his own negligence when he was under the influence of both alcohol and prescription drugs to bring attention to the issue. Even though he had been suspended on suspicion of drug use before he died, the department did not have random drug testing in place to help protect him. They do now.
Chief Ronan Newman of the Deal Police Department said: “After the incident that happened with Captain Alexander, I spoke with the prosecutor and he told me it’s totally up to – you know, there’s no Attorney General directive or nothing that mandates it (drug testing). And so, I figured for our peace of mind, we’ll just do random drug testing once or twice a year.”
While there is no state standard in place to randomly drug test officers, there is a standard of testing those who are in training to become a law enforcement officer and in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of drug abuse. Because there is no specific rule that all police officers must be randomly drug tests, many police departments have no policy for random drug tests at all. Currently, the standard is that police officers “may” be randomly drug tested. Many are urging the state attorney general to change the word to “must.”
Should New Jersey Require Drug Tests for Police Officers?
In many cases, it seems that the lack of random drug testing is more of an oversight or a lack of urgency than an overt attempt to cover up drug use among law enforcement officers or be permissive of drug use. Though the results may be the same no matter what the intent – that is, risk to the safety of both police officers and the civilians they serve – the goal should be to take precaution whenever possible, especially in a line of work that is dedicated to preserving the safety of the public. When the costs are low and the payoff is big, what is there to lose?
Improving Public Relations
With a bright spotlight on the actions of law enforcement in the media, it is important to police departments across the state and across the country to embrace higher levels of scrutiny and increase their transparency. The more comfortable the public feels with the best practices in place within the structure of the police department, the easier it will be for police officers to do their jobs as public relationship improve. There are not always a lot of opportunities for law enforcement officers to demonstrate their commitment to protecting the safety of the people they serve, but this is one way they can pull back the curtain and let people in.
When Police Officers Are in Crisis
It is not always easy for a first responder struggling with a substance use disorder to be the one to ask for help. Their entire lives are spent stepping in and helping others, and many prefer to try to manage the situation on their own rather than seek treatment. For family members as well as for the officer in crisis, the added burden of hiding the disorder and its effects is onerous, especially if part of the problem is an ongoing struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is exceptionally common among police officers, and in an attempt to manage the symptoms, some may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief.
With the institution of random drug testing, police officers who are struggling may be able to connect with treatment services during the early stages of trauma and drug abuse, and have the opportunity to get back on track and back to work.
What Do You Think?
Should New Jersey require random drug testing of police officers?