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Court: NYPD can drug-test cops through hair samples

New York's highest court Thursday unanimously upheld the right of the NYPD to test its police officers for drugs through hair sampling.

The 6-0 vote by the Court of Appeals also said it was within the police commissioner's discretion to decide when drug testing should take place among the tens of thousands of members of the New York Police Department.

Neither the use of hair sampling nor the situations requiring drug testing should be the subject of collective bargaining as police unions wanted, said the court.

"The detection and deterrence of wrongdoing with the NYPD - particularly crimes such as illegal drug use - is a crucial component of the Police Commissioner's responsibility to maintain discipline within the force," the court said in a 17-page decision written by Justice Susan P. Read.

Yesterday's decision overturned an October 2008 ruling by the Appellate Division in Manhattan that sided with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and other police unions challenging the use of the hair testing method. The unions didn't actually contest the right of the NYPD to use the particular testing method but insisted it had to be the subject of collective bargaining.

But the state's high court said that its own legal precedents have held that police disciplinary matters - which the court said includes drug testing - were not the subject of collective bargaining.

Historically, the NYPD had used urine testing and hair sampling, also known as radioimmunoassay, for officers suspected of drug use as well as for probationary officers. The department also put in place a random system of selecting officers for drug testing.

In 2005, the NYPD announced it was planning to phase out urine testing in favor of hair sampling, which experts said could determine if an officer had used drugs up to 90 days earlier. Urine analysis has a relatively shorter detection period and can be evaded through sampling substitution, the court noted.

Through a spokesman, Patrick Lynch, head of the PBA, declined to comment on the ruling.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the court came down on the side of the NYPD's best interests. "It is an important decision for the good order and discipline of the department," Kelly said.

"We are pleased with the decision, as it reaffirms our view that the police commissioner must have the authority to use the most effective method of drug detection within the department in order to ensure its effectiveness," said city corporation counsel Michael A. Cardozo.

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