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Police Union Leaders Back Mandatory Drug Testing : Law enforcement: In a surprise turnaround, they agree to put the issue to a vote of members.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leaders of Los Angeles’ largest police union, in an unexpected turnaround, have agreed to allow mandatory drug testing of all sworn officers and will put the Police Department’s proposal before its membership later this month, the union’s president said Tuesday.

If the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s 7,800 members approve the plan, the drug testing could begin as early as June 1, LAPD officials said.

With that target date in mind, the civilian Board of Police Commissioners, at the request of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, on Tuesday agreed to ask Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council for $27,000 to expand the department’s current drug testing program, which now tests only newly hired officers and officers specifically suspected of drug use.

Random testing of non-union, command-level officers--including Gates--was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but was postponed for a “couple of days” to work out some “procedural problems,” said department spokesman Cmdr. William Booth.

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The tests for police brass were announced last month after Police Protective League President George Aliano expressed strong opposition to a department-wide plan, contending that such testing was a contract issue and could not be arbitrarily imposed.

In February, Aliano and other union leaders filed an unfair labor practice complaint over the testing issue with the city’s Employee Relations Board. They cited a survey, Aliano said, showing that two-thirds of the union’s members opposed modifying their four-year contract “in the middle of its term” to allow the testing.

Aliano said Tuesday, however, that union leaders and Gates settled the issue about two weeks ago after a hearing on the complaint had begun. He would not reveal terms of the agreement, saying he wanted the union’s membership to get that information directly from him rather than reading it in published reports.

“I can say we have terms of agreement that will survive the contract,” Aliano said. “It’s not a reopening of the contract. It has no connection to the contract.” Booth said the agreement involves “no major changes” in the department’s original testing plan, “just little-bitty stuff.”

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Aliano has said repeatedly that neither he nor union members were against drug testing in principle, but were concerned only with maintaining the integrity of their contract with the city.

Union members, he said late last year, “want to show that they are drug-free just like everybody else.”

Aliano said Tuesday that the union leadership will urge members to approve the new agreement in a vote he expected to take place sometime this month. He said he expects the rank-and-file to adopt the agreement.

If the proposal is approved, he said, the LAPD will be the first department in the country, to his knowledge, to institute department-wide mandatory drug testing without a legal battle.

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“I know of no other that has done it without being ordered by a court,” Aliano said.

Under the LAPD plan proposed by Gates late last year, the department’s medical liaison staff would regularly collect urine samples from officers randomly selected by computer.

If an officer’s test results are positive, the agreement contains provisions for retesting by independent laboratories. An individual with a confirmed positive result would face termination.

Booth has said that the LAPD, which has about 8,150 members, fires about 10 officers annually for drug abuse.

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