Sheriff eyes drug tests for deputies

LAMOINE — In the wake of the fentanyl-overdose death of a Lewiston police officer in February, a number of law enforcement agencies in Maine, including the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, are looking at possibly instituting drug testing for officers and job applicants.

“If it comes to the point, God forbid, that one of our deputies has to squeeze the trigger, and then we go through all the testing and find out there was this and this and this in their system … I think that, liability-wise, it’s something we’d be wise to try to stay ahead of,” Sheriff Scott Kane told members of the Acadia-area League of Towns board at their meeting here Tuesday.

“Nationally, it’s gaining traction,” he said of drug testing for law enforcement officers. “I think it would serve us well to be ahead of the curve and have something in place. I don’t want to get caught with a problem.”

Kane cited the expanded drug-testing policy that South Portland recently adopted as a possible model.

Lt. Frank Clark, the South Portland Police Department’s public information officer, said his department has been conducting pre-employment drug tests on all job applicants for several years. But starting July 1, all officers will be subject to random drug testing.

“Twenty-five percent of the department will be tested annually,” Clark said. “They will be selected on a random basis by an external vendor that the city contracts with. The computer-generated list of officers to be tested each quarter is given to the city’s human resources department.

“Then the [police] administration will advise the officers when they come in for duty on a particular day that they have been selected to provide their [urine] sample.”

Some other law enforcement agencies in Maine conduct pre-employment drug testing.

“But I believe we are the first department in the state to implement random testing,” Clark said.

The South Portland Police Department’s drug test screens for a number of illegal drugs. According to the department’s policy, that includes medical and recreational marijuana because the possession and use of marijuana “remains a violation of U.S. federal law.”

Officers who test positive for a prohibited drug will be removed from duty and referred for counseling and a rehabilitation program. They may return to duty after successfully completing rehabilitation. If officers subsequently test positive for a prohibited drug, they will be subject to disciplinary action.

The Ellsworth Police Department does not engage in the practice.

“We wouldn’t engage in random testing unless we had reason to suspect our officers were using some sort of illegal drug,” Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier said Wednesday.

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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