Police union, borough agree to develop drug testing policy

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NAUGATUCK — The new contract between the borough and police union includes language to address an issue that has not been looked at since 2006 — drug testing.

Section 24.02 of the contract, which was approved by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses this month, states the union and borough agree to establish a committee by September to address drug testing and complete its recommendations by Jan. 1, 2013.

Mayor Robert Mezzo explained that in 2006 the borough and the union decided to work together to reach an agreement on how drug testing would be implemented and handled.

No agreement was ever reached and the issue had not been addressed since, Mezzo said.

The borough and union had reached an agreement in the late 1990s to implement a drug testing policy. At that time the policy came about because of concerns over steroid use in the department.

The testing continued for a few years and was discontinued, Mezzo said.

Mezzo explained that there were no incidents of illegal drug use that brought this matter into the contract this year. The borough wanted citizens to feel safer knowing that the officers were not on any kind of illegal substances, he said.

“I think it’s important for the borough, the public, and our employees to know that the people who are driving vehicles and operating equipment are not putting people in jeopardy because of the use of any illegal substances,” Mezzo said.

If an employee is caught with illegal substances, the contract is very clear about what will happen to that employee.

According to section 24.03, on the first occasion the employee’s test reveals the use of an illegal substance, the employee shall receive a 30-day suspension from work without pay and shall, during that time, commence a rehabilitation program under the supervision of a medical doctor selected and paid by through the employee’s health insurance carrier.

Reinstatement will be contingent on the employee’s continued participation in or completion of the rehabilitation program.

Upon reinstatement, the employee shall submit to drug testing six times within the first 12 months and four times within the next 12 months.

If the employee fails to pass a drug test for a second time or fails to pass the rehabilitation program, the employee will be discharged.

According to section 24.05, if an employee voluntarily admits a drug or alcohol dependency, that employee will immediately be put on sick leave and required to commence a rehabilitation program under the supervision of the police surgeon.

The employee can only be reinstated after satisfactory completion of the full-time rehabilitation program and the employee’s continuing participation in a follow-up program.

Upon reinstatement, an employee with previous drug dependency shall submit to drug testing at least monthly for the first 12 months and bi-monthly for the next 36 months.

While the rules governing the actions taken after the use of drugs has been identified, it all hinges on whether the borough and union can come to an agreement about how the tests are done.

“The only reason we did not include it in this agreement is there were several economic issues that we agreed to resolve and work on drug testing over next few months,” Mezzo said.

However, since the 2006 attempt to come to an agreement with the police union, the borough has worked with the firefighters union and came up with an agreement that was acceptable to all parties.

“The Fire Department already agreed to this a little over a year ago and, as we expected, there hasn’t been a single incident of someone testing positive. There policy is a very fair, random one controlled by outside testing company,” Mezzo said.

According to the firefighters union’s contract, prior to employment, an applicant must undergo testing for alcohol and controlled substances as part of a pre-employment medical examination.

“Refusal to take the test, or test results reporting a presence of illegal drugs or narcotics, or the use of non-prescription drugs, shall be the basis for discontinuing an applicant in the selection process,” the contract states.

Once hired, an employee can be tested for alcohol or controlled substances at random or when a reasonable suspicion is determined. The contract defines reasonable suspicion as the direct observation of drug or alcohol use on-duty, the employee’s body showing evidence of drug use such as track marks, the employee being found to be illegally in possession of drugs or alcohol while on duty, spontaneous, unusual, abnormal, erratic or unacceptable behavior, or the presence of symptoms of drug and/or alcohol use such as glassy or blood shot eyes, the odor of alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, poor coordination and/or reflexes.

An employee that is tested under reasonable suspicion is placed on paid administrative leave until the results of the test are determined.

Firefighters are also subject to drug testing following a vehicle accident “while performing a safety sensitive function” in accordance with state regulations and laws.

A message left with Lt. Bryan Cammarata, president of the police union, seeking comment was not returned as of this post.