Drug Tests Next for LAPD?

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates wants random and mandatory drug tests for all officers, including the top brass. The Los Angeles Police Protective League has raised questions on constitutional grounds. But in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, both have demonstrated a refreshing willingness to talk.

Earlier this month, the high court let stand a lower court ruling that allows the Boston Police Department to require random drug tests. The decision clearly gave Gates an opportunity to try again to get drug testing under way here.

To his credit, Gates did not try to impose mandatory testing unilaterally. Instead, the department followed the procedure set out by state law and submitted a formal proposal to the union to open discussions. That is the correct way to try to resolve a conflict over work conditions and a welcome contrast from the chief's heavy-handed approach of last month when his order requiring desk officers to do field patrol several times a month resulted in a lawsuit by the union.

Lt. George Aliano, president of the police protective league, is showing similar restraint. Instead of stalling the issue until the current union contract expires in 1992, he plans to put the issue before the membership. A poll will determine whether members are willing to reopen negotiations. If a majority answers "yes," as Aliano anticipates, the union will talk.

There are many stumbling blocks on the way to agreement. Under Gates' proposal, police officers from the department's medical liaison staff, would collect urine samples to be tested by the department's lab. A positive reading would trigger a test by an independent lab. An additional positive reading would result in termination.

The union wants to know how many times a year officers would be tested, who would collect urine samples and where they would be analyzed. The union also wants officers to qualify for rehabilitation if they admit to drug use before being caught. The department resists second chances.

Although the police chief and union chief agree that few officers use drugs, the public needs to have every confidence in the men and women who protect and serve.

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