A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday barred the city's police department from conducting unscheduled tests to detect drug use by individual police officers, ruling that arbitrary tests are "repugnant to the Constitution."
Judge Eugene N. Hamilton issued a preliminary injunction banning arbitrary use of the urinalyses after attorneys for one officer argued that the unscheduled tests violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.
Hamilton said that the department's guidelines in forcing officers to submit to unscheduled, individual tests are "insufficient to guarantee that intrusions upon officers' rights are reasonable."
The order affects only tests administered under a March 24 order by police Chief Maurice T. Turner, which gave officials authority to order urinalyses when drug use by an officer is suspected. It does not affect tests administered by the department during scheduled physical examinations.
Gary Hankins, head of the Fraternal Order of Police's bargaining unit, which represents police officers, said, "We're very gratified that the court has seen fit to extend to us the same rights other individuals have."
"I think we can live with it until we have a full-scale hearing in the suit," Turner commented, adding that he believes that only eight to ten cases a year fall under the circumstances covered by the ruling.
A suit against the department was brought jointly by the FOP and officer Charles E. Buie, who was placed on administrative leave last week after refusing to take a urinalysis test.
The suit claimed that Turner's March 24 order gave police officials "unfettered discretion" to order urinalyses when drug use is suspected. The order also authorized disciplinary action against officers who refused to take the test.
The suit contended that officials should be required to obtain a warrant before ordering the tests. It also claimed that the test is too unreliable to be used as a basis for disciplinary actions against officers.
Attorneys for the city argued that the department's use of the test is "the only logical method" of determining drug use and should be permitted in order to maintain the integrity of the department. Police officers, they contended, should not be accorded the same constitutional rights as civilians because of their special position in being sworn to uphold the law.
The attorneys also claimed that use of the tests is an administrative matter and should not be subject to constitutional restrictions.
Hamilton rejected both notions. Police officers, he said "do not waive" their constitutional rights on entering the department.
The "rights and protections are burdensome and inconvenient in administrative matters," he said. "But the individual must be protected."
Hamilton said that the department should adopt strict procedures for investigating allegations against officers before ordering the tests. The department, he said, need not obtain warrants, but it should require sworn statements by persons bringing allegations against officers, plus corroborating evidence from a reliable source, before officers are required to take the tests.