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Police Drug Testing, Hair Analysis, and the Issue of Race Bias

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 27 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2002 Pages: 124-140
Tom Mieczkowski; Kim M. Lersch; Michael Kruger
Date Published
17 pages
This article focuses on the controversial use of hair analysis as a drug-screening tool in police officer recruitment and officer monitoring.
The issue is controversial because of a racial bias associated with human hair specimens, especially focused on cocaine. It has been argued that hair analysis performed by identical test protocols produces systematic differential outcomes in persons of different races. A previous study determined that hair analysis did not evidence a racial bias. In the present study, the goal was to determine whether the same conclusion could be reached by using a similar analytic approach but with a much larger data set. Officers in the police department used in this study were all subject to random urinalysis testing; the database of urine testing results was derived from an aggregate outcome of 47,961 random urine tests conducted from 1990 through 1999. The hair assay data set was based on a hair analysis that was given to officers at the end of a 2-year probationary period. The hair assay analysis was based on 7,817 hair tests conducted from 1996 through 1999. The assay procedure included a wash protocol to control for environmental contamination, a radioimmunoassay-based screen procedure that identified both parent drug and metabolites, and confirmation of all positive screens. Results indicate that, for both Black and white subjects, hair tests detected cocaine use more frequently than urinalysis. However, the differential rates of detection between Black and white subjects were essentially equal. If hair analysis is employed as the drug screen of choice in law enforcement agencies, there are several impacts it may have. It is likely to impact the recruitment of persons into policing. It may be used in disciplinary or investigatory hearings into allegations of drug use by sworn officers. 3 tables, 5 footnotes, 60 references