Mandatory Drug Tests for Sheriff's Department OKd

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mandatory drug testing for all 8,000 sworn peace officers in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Sheriff Sherman Block supported the move, saying, "Drug abuse has now become so pervasive in our society that it is essential that we send a message to the community that those men and women they have entrusted with their safety are absolutely drug free."

The sheriff said there is no drug abuse problem within the department.

The drug tests also have been approved by the unions representing sheriff's personnel.

They will go into effect immediately, Block said.

Richard B. Dixon, the county's chief administrative officer, said the drug testing program "satisfies our concerns for public safety and protects the legitimate privacy concerns of the employees."

The 8,400-member Los Angeles Police Department requires drug tests for job applicants, recruits and top brass, but Mayor Tom Bradley recently blocked an agreement that would have extended mandatory drug testing to all police officers.

Bradley objected to a police union demand that, in exchange for the testing, 50 senior officers receive five extra weeks of vacation. Police Cmdr. William Booth said Tuesday that the department will meet again next week with union officials in an attempt to hammer out a new agreement.

In January, the Sheriff's Department began testing non-union, command-level personnel--including Block--for illegal drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana and PCP, or "angel dust." No illegal drug use has been found since the program began, Block said.

Under the program extended Tuesday to deputies, sergeants and lieutenants, anyone who refuses to take the tests or who tests positive will be fired, Block said. Sheriff's personnel will be tested three to six times a year, depending on their assignments. Deputies assigned to narcotics units, for instance, will be tested as many as four times a year.

Deputy sheriff's trainees and probationary deputy sheriffs may be tested as many as six times a year.

Mel Jones, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said the union is satisfied with safeguards to ensure accuracy and confidentiality in the testing. Urine samples will be collected from sheriff's personnel randomly selected by computer. If test results are positive, employees can request retesting by an independent laboratory.

Sheriff's medical consultants will determine whether any positive test result is due to proper use of medication.

A cost estimate for the program was not available.

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