Shocking Number Of New Jersey Police Agencies Don't Require Random Drug Testing

By Victoria Kim 01/24/18

A recent investigation uncovered a lack of mandatory drug testing policies in many of the state's police departments.

police officer standing near his service vehicle

Should all police officers be subject to random drug testing? This question is at the center of a recent investigation by the Asbury Park Press, which discovered that nearly a quarter of New Jersey’s municipal police departments do not have mandatory random drug testing policies in place.

In other words, nearly 116 of New Jersey’s 466 police agencies do not require random drug testing. This translates to about 1.4 million NJ residents whose local police officers are not subject to random testing. 

And according to the APP’s survey of all 466 agencies, it’s also unclear whether those that do have such policies are actually implementing them.

Meanwhile, the APP notes, federal law requires 10% of truck drivers in every town to receive a random drug test each year.

Patrick Colligan, president of the NJ Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said that neglecting the need for random screenings is “an accident waiting to happen.” He told the APP, “I think they should [randomly test officers]. Absolutely. I’m shocked to have you tell me some don’t.”

Under guidelines established by the state Attorney General, municipal police departments are not required to issue random drug testing; rather, it is only required for new officers and when there is reasonable suspicion.

Even large departments, like the one in Elizabeth, NJ’s fourth-largest city, do not randomly test its nearly 300-strong police force.

Ocean County, on the other hand, requires 20% of police officers per department to be randomly tested each year. However, the APP could not confirm whether this policy is followed consistently.  

Monmouth County said it would establish a drug testing policy for 2018 in response to the investigation, but did not specify whether that would include random tests.

It took the death of a police captain for police in the borough of Deal to establish a random drug testing policy. Police Capt. Earl Alexander died in a fatal car crash in January of 2016; an autopsy revealed that he was impaired by a combination of alcohol, “mixed illegal drugs,” and prescription medication at the time of the accident.

“I figured for our peace of mind, we’ll just do random drug testing once or twice a year,” said Deal Police Chief Ronen Neuman. Now, the department randomly tests “at least two officers at least once a year,” according to the APP.

In a 25-part series exploring police brutality in the U.S., civil rights activist Shaun King made a compelling argument in favor of testing police with the same rigor and routine of professional sports. 

“More than almost any non-athletic profession in America, policing… requires a serious level of focus, acuity, agility, coordination and fitness,” King wrote. “Unlike athletes, police officers are armed and deputized to use lethal force whenever they feel it is required to do their job safely.”

The stresses of modern-day policing, paired with mind-altering substances and increasingly armed police forces, can be a recipe for disaster. “Drugs of any kind could impair… judgment. Some drugs, like steroids, could cause police officers to be quick to anger,” King continued.

“Unlike athletes, police also face a heavily armed society. Drug use—be it cocaine, marijuana, steroids, HGH or even alcohol—could seriously impact an officer’s performance.”  

Check out the full investigation Protecting the Shield by the Asbury Park Press. This is the product of two years’ worth of interviews and review of more than 30,000 public records.

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