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Prior Drug Use Rules May Be Eased For Recruits Proposal Also Tightens Restrictions, Supporters Say
POSTED: 6:13 am EST March 25, 2005 UPDATED: 3:07 pm EST March 25, 2005
BALTIMORE -- The panel that sets minimum standards for police recruits in the state is considering a plan to further ease the rules on prior drug use to attract more applicants.
Supporters of the change say it would widen the pool of potential recruits and allow police agencies to consider applicants who might have experimented with drugs earlier in their lives but are now clean.
SURVEY Would changing the standards for police officer candidates be a good idea? I don't believe there's a problem. No, the standards should remain unchanged, or heightened.
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But some law enforcement officials are worried that loosening of guidelines would send the wrong message about drug use, and previous drug use would hurt an officer's credibility in court and raise doubts about a recruit's judgment.
The proposal, which also tightens some restrictions, would permit applicants who had smoked marijuana as recently as three years ago, compared with the current standard of at least seven years ago. It would also permit recruits to have used cocaine up to five times - though not in the previous three years - up from the current limit of three uses, the most recent at least two years ago.
"If you're going to be a law enforcement officer, you're going to have to gear your life to be a law-enforcement officer," said Lt. Frederick V. Roussey, president of the police union in Baltimore. "Kids can make mistakes, but a mistake is once. A mistake is not five, six times. That's a conscious choice."
The proposed change in guidelines is before the Maryland Police Training Commission, whose 14 members include the state police superintendent, police chiefs, sheriffs and union officials. The commission will discuss the proposal at its next meeting, April 5, and could vote on it this summer.
The panel sets minimum standards for the hiring and training of police officers and sheriff's deputies across the state. Departments can impose stricter standards than the commission's but not looser ones. The rules are for recruits only; all police officers are required to avoid drugs while on the force.
The new guidelines would keep heroin, PCP and LSD off-limits but permit recruits who have used up to five times total any other drug or drugs on a list of controlled substances - but only once since age 21. Current rules allow recruits to have used any particular illegal drug up to three times each.
The current policy permits applicants who have used marijuana up to 20 times in their lifetimes as long as the last use was at least seven years ago. A new provision would keep the limit of 20 but specify that the recruit has used the drug only five times since age 21.
The drug-use exemptions would apply only to applicants who were not caught. Anyone with drug convictions would still be disqualified from becoming a police officer.