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Do Cops Get Drug Tested?

Do cops get drug tested? Short answer – yes.

When you apply to become a police officer, you’ll have to get through a comprehensive selection process, and that selection process will include a drug test.

Let’s look at some details so you know what to expect.

When Do Cops Get Drug Tested in 2024?

Do Cops Get Drug Tested

How often do police officers get drug tested?

The exact details of law enforcement officer drug testing depend on the policy of the police department in question.

In the United States, there are around 18,000 police departments, so it’s impossible to give you a concrete answer that will apply in every city and every state.

But in general, you can expect drug testing to be carried out for a variety of reasons.

Drug Testing During The Police Officer Application Process

While drug testing policies at police departments vary in the type and the frequency of the drug testing they carry out on sworn police officers, all police departments will test applicants.

When you apply to a police department or police training academy, you cannot have illegal drugs in your system.

And because the law enforcement hiring process can be a lengthy one that takes many months to complete, you may be required to take more than one drug test during the hiring and training period.

This means that if you plan on becoming a police officer, you’ll need to stop using drugs completely because while you may be able to plan for the first drug test, you won’t know when the next one will come up.

Your state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST) establishes the exact hiring requirements, but the process will usually involve the following steps.

After the basic application to determine your eligibility for employment, you need to pass a written exam and video exam, a background investigation, and an oral board interview which is a face-to-face interview with 3 to 5 members of the hiring board.

Once you’ve passed the initial part of the selection process, you’ll take a physical fitness test, medical screening, psychological test, and drug test. Some departments require a polygraph test as well.

Then if you get through those stages, and are hired as a trainee, you’ve got several months of police academy training to complete.

If there are any significant delays between the steps in the hiring process, you could need to take another drug test, and one or more drug tests may be required at the police academy.

Also Read: Do Restaurants Drug Test?

Random Drug Testing

Besides wanting to know about drug testing during the hiring process, another common question is, do cops get drug tested randomly?

Random drug tests are fairly standard in safety-sensitive positions, and since police officers carry firearms and have to make snap decisions that can result in loss of life, a police officer is definitely working in a safety-sensitive position.

Random drug testing policies vary across police departments. Some will require random drug tests once a year, while others will have more frequent testing requirements. The percentage of officers tested will also vary.

In New Jersey, for example, the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Drug Testing Policy states that police departments must randomly drug test at least 10% of their officers, regardless of rank or assignment, at least twice a year.

With random drug tests, all officers are placed in a selection pool. Officers are drawn at random from the selection pool until the required testing percentage has been reached.

Because of the random selection procedure, many officers escape testing year after year, while some may be tested multiple times in the same year.

Random drug testing is unannounced, so there’s no way to detox and prepare in advance.

Drug Testing After Discharging (Firing) A Weapon

Depending on the policy at the police department, a drug test could be required in the event that an officer discharges their weapon.

In Illinois for example, under the Police and Community Improvement Relations Act, a drug and alcohol test is required after an officer discharges their weapon and causes injury or death. The drug test must take place no later than the end of the officer’s shift.

Drug Testing After An Incident Or Accident

Some police departments may require an officer to take a drug test after a police chase or after a vehicle crash, although this requirement isn’t widespread.

However, if an officer’s behavior after an incident suggested that he or she may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol then a reasonable suspicion test may be required.

Drug Testing For Reasonable Suspicion

A police officer who displays signs of drug use may be required to take a drug test. The rules governing this type of testing will vary among police departments, but in general, before ordering an officer to take a reasonable suspicion test, superiors must be satisfied that the objective facts in their possession give them a reason to suspect that illegal drug use is taking place.

Superiors will assess whether there is evidence of drug use or if the report is merely hearsay, and they’ll consider the reliability of the informant before ordering a drug test.

What Type Of Drug Tests Do Law Enforcement Officers Have To Take?

What Type Of Drug Tests Do Law Enforcement Officers Have To Take?

You’ll normally be asked to provide a urine sample for analysis but some police departments may ask for a hair sample.

A hair sample will show drug use over the past 90 days, while a urine sample has a shorter detection window for most drugs.

With both types of samples, you will be tested for commonly abused illegal drugs. The list below includes drug types and their detection window on a urine test.

  • Opiates – up to 4 days
  • Cocaine – up to 4 days
  • Marijuana – up to 30 days (heavy chronic use may be up to 90 days)
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamine – up to 4 days
  • Phencyclidine (PCP) – up to 14 days
  • Benzodiazepines – up to 7 days (long-term use up to 6 weeks)
  • Barbiturates – up to 7 days (long-acting types up to 3 weeks)
  • Oxycodone and oxymorphone – up to 4 days
  • Methadone – up to 3 days
  • Ecstasy – up to 5 days

Before you apply to become a police officer, take a DIY drug test to make sure that the drugs you take are out of your system.

Please note that even in states where marijuana use is legal for recreational or medical use, it’s still an illegal drug at the federal level and its use is prohibited for safety-sensitive positions.

Are Drug Tests For Police Officers Observed?

When you provide a urine sample during the hiring process, you’re unlikely to be observed.

Sworn police officers are also unlikely to be observed during the sample collection process. However, if there’s reason to believe that an officer may attempt to tamper with the sample then an observed collection will take place.

Before an observed drug test can take place, the reasons why the observation is required will be documented and confirmed; the drug testing supervisor can’t just decide on a whim to watch you urinate.

What Happens If An Applicant Fails The Drug Test?

What Happens If An Applicant Fails The Drug Test?

If you fail the drug test during the hiring process to become a police officer, you won’t be hired. However, if you’re certain that the drug test result is incorrect you’ll have the opportunity to show that the test result is not due to illegal drug use.

For example, Benadryl taken for allergies can cause a false positive for PCP, Ritalin taken for ADHD can result in a false positive for amphetamine, and Ciprofloxacin taken for an infection can cause a false positive for opiates. That’s just a sample of the prescription drugs that can interfere with drug test results.

If your sample is positive for an illegal substance, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will contact you and ask you about any medications you take.

When there isn’t any legitimate reason for a positive result, you will fail the drug test and your application will be rejected.

Depending on the jurisdiction, you may be able to apply again in the future. In Michigan, for example, applicants failing a drug test can reapply for a law enforcement position after 2 years.

Once you become a trainee, however, although you’re not yet a police officer, you’re held to a higher standard. If you test positive at this stage with no medical explanation, you’ll be expelled from the program and most likely permanently barred from a career in law enforcement.

What Happens If A police Officer Fails A Drug Test?

Before a sworn police officer takes a drug test, they’re asked to complete a medical information form detailing any prescription or over-the-counter drugs they take.

Should their sample give a positive result, the Medical Review Officer will use that information to determine if the medication could be responsible for the positive result.

If no medical explanation accounts for the drug/s found then a positive result will be recorded.

Upon receiving a positive drug test result, the officer will be suspended from duty and subject to discharge.

Depending on the policy of the police department, officers discharged for drug abuse will be permanently barred from future employment as law enforcement officers.

Quick Recap

Illegal drug use isn’t tolerated in law enforcement. When you apply to become a police officer, you’ll have to take at least one drug test, and a positive result will lead to disqualification.

Once you’re hired as a police officer, you’ll be subject to random drug tests and reasonable suspicion drug tests.

Depending on the policy at your police department you could also be required to take a drug test after an incident or accident.

The most common type of drug test used by police departments is a urine test. In most cases urine sample collection is unobserved, but in some circumstances, direct observation can be ordered.