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Ogden Plans Random Drug Tests of Police and Firefighters



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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- The city has adopted a zero-tolerance policy providing that any city employee who tests positive on the job for alcohol or drugs will be terminated.

It also plans random tests for those with safety-sensitive jobs, such as police and firefighters.

Most employees may be tested only under certain circumstances, such as when there is reasonable suspicion that they are under the influence or after they are involved in accidents.

But the policy institutes random drug and alcohol testing for safety-sensitive employees, which applies to 114 in the fire department, 145 in the police department and 110 with commercial drivers' licenses, according to the city Management Services Division. Lifeguards and animal-control officers also may be classified safety-sensitive.

Division Director Mark Johnson said that in the past, those who tested positive often were referred to treatment rather than being terminated.

"We've had people show positive for illegal drugs, we've had some show positive for prescription drugs they didn't have prescriptions for, we've had people who've tried to fake the tests," Johnson said.

"I don't think we've got an epidemic, but we certainly have issues, and we think it's important to protect our citizens and our employees," he said.

The policy will cost the city $20,000 to $25,000 a year, which includes pre-employment drug and alcohol screening, Johnson said.

Johnson said the city will test 100 people a year in the safety-sensitive pool, beginning in the next 30 to 45 days.

Police Chief Jon Greiner said he supports the policy and there has been no resistance from the Ogden Police Benefit Association.

"We welcome the opportunity to show that our employees don't partake in that," Greiner said. "And if they do, there's a reasonable chance they're going to get caught."

Deputy Fire Chief Dave Owens said his department has been advocating random drug and alcohol testing for years. He said firefighters feel it helps to ensure that those working around them are not impaired.

"I don't know that there's any drug use going on, but it's always good to check yourself," Owens said. "This is a very stressful job, and sometimes people turn to certain things to make them feel better."

Other cities in Utah with random testing for safety-sensitive employees include Layton, which also has a zero-tolerance policy. Ric Higbee, Layton human resources officer, said there have been three or four positive random tests in the last five years.

Weber and Salt Lake counties also have random testing for safety-sensitive employees, but neither has a zero-tolerance policy.

Weber County Sheriff Brad Slater said there have not been any positive random tests since he took office in 1997.

"There have been years that it's been more active than other years, and that's primarily due to funding," Slater said.

Salt Lake County Undersheriff Jeff Carr said funding limits his agency to random testing of 2 or 3 percent of employees each year. He said some test results have been positive.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse has pushed for random drug and alcohol testing. The Salt Lake Police Association has opposed it, arguing there has been no problem and the money could be better spent in other areas.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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