BOSTON (CN) – The city of Boston needs more than a positive hair-follicle test for cocaine to fire a police officer, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
The appellate court on Oct. 7 affirmed a Suffolk County Court ruling that the police reinstate six police officers who tested positive for cocaine and were fired more than a decade ago. Four other officers who tested positive, but were unable to show that their positive tests were not due to their taking the drug, saw their terminations upheld.
From 2001 to 2006, 10 officers who were made to submit hair samples that tested positive for cocaine were fired from the Boston Police Department.
The labor contract between the city and the police union allowed the police department to conduct annual hair follicle tests to detect drug use.
Although the contract allowed a positive test result as sufficient to terminate, during appeal before the Civil Service Commission, the appellants were allowed to argue that hair testing was not able to differentiate between an officer who took a drug and an officer who was exposed to it, such when arresting someone for drugs or processing seized drug evidence.
“The commission found that the risk of a false positive test was great enough to require additional evidence to terminate an officer for just cause,” Associate Justice Amy Lyn Blake wrote in the Oct. 7 ruling.
Psychmedics, the company that performed the hair test, said its test can detect the use of cocaine, marijuana, opiates, methamphetamines and some hallucinogens over a span of several months if the hair sample is long enough.
But a 2001 study from Forensic Science international found it is difficult to distinguish the difference in test results between a hair sample of an active cocaine user and one that has been contaminated by the drug without ingestion. The analysts suggested that this creates a higher likelihood of false positives that what had been thought.
The Civil Service Commission stated that the drug tests were at least reliable enough that they “could be used as some evidence of drug use,” Blake wrote.
The 10 officers were allowed to submit evidence to rebut the positive drug tests. Six were able to do so.
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