Pubdate: Mon, 18 Aug 2003
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Copyright: 2003, The Sun Herald


MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The random drug testing of state troopers quietly ended 
in 1998, but it's about to come back.

The new director of the state Department of Public Safety says he's 
starting drug testing again as a matter of public confidence and public safety.

"It sends a message to the public we are willing to police ourselves. We 
recruit from the general population, and we are all subject to frailties," 
Col. Mike Coppage said in an interview.

Coppage retired as Birmingham's police chief in March and became public 
safety director in Gov. Bob Riley's Cabinet. Coppage said that when he 
arrived on the job, he found the state department had a good drug-testing 
policy, but wasn't enforcing it.

Random drug testing had begun in 1991 but was discontinued in 1998 because 
of budget shortages and other problems, he said. The previous drug testing 
did not turn up any problems, and no incident prompted its return, he said.

The new system also will check for alcohol use while on the job, the 
director said.

Another major state law enforcement agency, the state Department of 
Conservation and Natural Resources, has never used random drug testing for 
its game wardens or Marine Police.

Allan Andress, chief of law enforcement for the Wildlife and Fresh Water 
Fisheries Division, said, "We've never seen a need for it. Drug abuse is 
something foreign to our enforcement officers."

At the Department of Public Safety, Coppage's plan calls for one state 
trooper post to be chosen each quarter for testing. Then about a dozen 
employees will be selected at random for testing. Random tests also will be 
performed at the department's headquarters in Montgomery.

All employees with arrest powers are subject to testing, as are other 
employees in sensitive areas, such as those dealing with fingerprints and 
driver's licenses, he said.

The department will pay the costs of the tests, which run about $50 each, 
he said.

The department's policy provides that any employee who refuses to take a 
test will be placed on mandatory annual leave and face disciplinary action. 
Anyone who fails a test is subject to immediate disciplinary action, 
including termination. But anyone who voluntarily seeks help for abuse of a 
legally prescribed drug or alcohol will not be fired.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart