A Maryland panel that sets standards for police hiring and training throughout the state is considering a proposal that would allow recruits to become police officers even if they had experimented with heroin, LSD and PCP, reports the Baltimore Sun. The move is aimed at increasing the pool of applicants for short-staffed departments. The Sun says the plan is drawing stiff opposition from a range of police commanders and union leaders who say that hiring officers who have used those drugs sends the wrong message about the acceptability of criminal behavior.
Critics believe that a history of drug use could harm an officer’s credibility in court and reveals serious character flaws. They question the board’s decision last year to permit applicants who have experimented with cocaine. “These are people who have committed crimes even though they haven’t been arrested,” said Gary McLhinney, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. “These people made poor choices in their lives and don’t deserve to become police officers. … We’re giving people a lot of authority, a weapon and, under certain circumstances, the ability to take someone’s life.”
A conviction for a serious drug offense eliminates a potential recruit. Agencies screen applicants for past drug use, even if it did not result in a conviction, in interviews and polygraph examinations.
The Maryland Police Training Commission, which is led by the state police superintendent and includes police chiefs, sheriffs and union officials on its 14-member board, will meet in April to consider a proposal that would allow recruits to have used heroin, PCP, and LSD and still be considered for jobs. The new guidelines would allow recruits to have used those three drugs – and all other illegal substances – up to five times in their lives but only once since the age of 21.
Last October, the board voted unanimously to remove a prohibition on hiring candidates who had tried cocaine. That change took effect in November and has been criticized by police chiefs and union members who were notified about it. The commission sets minimum standards; local police agencies can set higher ones.
“The challenge is to effectively balance the need to maintain the highest standards for police recruits while maintaining a satisfactorily large enough pool of candidates,” said Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the commission, which was established to set state-wide thresholds for the selection and training of officers in the 1960s. “It’s a thorny issue.”