State supreme court shoots down random drug tests

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the random drug testing policy for Anchorage firefighters and police violates the state constitution.

The court decision handed down Friday found that the city's random drug testing policy, adopted in 1994, constitutes an unlawful search and seizure.

The policy requires city employees in ''public safety positions'' to submit to substance abuse testing at the time of application, promotion, demotion or transfer, after a vehicle accident, for reasonable suspicion and at random, according to the Supreme Court's ruling.

The only element deemed unconstitutional were 'suspicionless' or random tests, according to the decision.

The issue ended up in the hands of the high court after Anchorage Superior Court Judge Karen Hunt ruled in 1997 that the city's drug test policy -- including random tests -- was constitutional.

The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association and the International Association of Firefighters had asked Hunt for an order barring the city from implementing the policy. The unions appealed Hunt's decision to the Supreme Court.

''The only thing that we were opposed to was the randomness of it,'' said Mark Hall, IAFF president. ''I understand that the city needs a drug program and we are not opposed to (testing) 'for cause.' ''

The city began requiring random tests from the police department following Hunt's decision and has required them of the fire department since July 2000.

Over the last year, no firefighter has been dismissed for failing a random drug test, said Charles Dunnagan, an attorney who argued the case for the firemen's union. A deputy chief was fired after he refused a random drug test, but that employee is not an IAFF member, Dunnagan said.

There have been firefighters who have tested positive on non-random tests, which proves that a policy without random tests is adequate, he said.

Mayor George Wuerch said Friday afternoon that he supports random drug tests but hadn't yet had a chance to read the court's decision.

''We can either live with that (decision) or we can go beyond that,'' Wuerch said. He said he will continue to ask both unions to volunteer to undergo random drug tests during future contract negotiations.

''And they may or may not be willing to,'' he said.

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