Panel rec­om­mends re­laxed pot rules for po­lice ap­pli­cants

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Kevin Rec­tor Bal­ti­more Sun re­porter Cather­ine Rentz con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. krec­tor@balt­ twit­­tor­sun

The com­mis­sion that reg­u­lates po­lice hir­ing in Mary­land has rec­om­mended that the state re­lax a rule that re­stricts the num­ber of times a prospec­tive of­fi­cer might have smoked mar­i­juana and still be con­sid­ered for a job — a change Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis has cham­pi­oned as a way to at­tract more re­cruits.

Un­der state pol­icy dat­ing to the 1970s, po­lice ap­pli­cants are dis­qual­i­fied from be­com­ing of­fi­cers if they have used mar­i­juana more than 20 times in their lives, or five times since turn­ing 21 years old.

The Po­lice Train­ing and Stan­dards Com­mis­sion, cre­ated by the leg­is­la­ture last year in re­sponse to con­cerns about po­lice ac­count­abil­ity, voted dur­ing its in­au­gu­ral meet­ing this month to rec­om­mend lift­ing the lifetime limit and bar­ring only those re­cruits who have used the drug in the last three years.

Davis, who was elected vice chair of the 24-mem­ber com­mis­sion at the meet­ing Oct. 5, said the “over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity” of panel mem­bers sup­ported the change.

“Ev­ery­one has their own par­tic­u­lar views of mar­i­juana use, but this isn’t about any­one’s per­sonal views,” Davis said. “We have to do what’s right for the pro­fes­sion and what’s go­ing on in Amer­ica in 2016.”

The com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion now goes be­fore the pub­lic for com­ment. It must pass a le­gal re­view and be ap­proved by top state of­fi­cials be­fore it can be­come pol­icy.

In re­cent years, Davis has said, past mar­i­juana use has been “the No. 1 dis­qual­i­fier for po­lice ap­pli­cants in Bal­ti­more.” In a let­ter to the com­mis­sion ear­lier this year out­lin­ing his sup­port for the pro­posed change, Davis em­pha­sized the de­part­ment’s need to di­ver­sify its ranks and im­prove re­cruit­ment.

Some drug spe­cial­ists have warned that re­duc­ing re­stric­tions on past pot use by of­fi­cers could have un­in­tended con­se­quences. They note that mod­ern mar­i­juana is far stronger than mar­i­juana smoked decades ago, and its ef­fects are not fully known.

The na­tional Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice also has ex­pressed reser­va­tions about any re­duc­tions in qual­i­fi­ca­tions for new of­fi­cers.

Colorado, Washington, Ore­gon, Alaska and the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, and other states, in­clud­ing Mary­land, have de­crim­i­nal­ized the drug and moved to­ward li­cens­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

As mar­i­juana laws have been re­laxed, Davis said, it makes sense to re­lax the re­stric­tions on po­ten­tial of­fi­cers as well.

“One of the points that I made to peo­ple is that we are los­ing some re­ally good peo­ple from our pro­fes­sion be­cause we are cling­ing to this de­fense that makes no sense,” he said.

The Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment has an au­tho­rized strength of 2,850 of­fi­cers, but the ac­tual force is sig­nif­i­cantly smaller.

The de­part­ment has 225 va­cant po­si­tions that are not be­ing filled un­der a hir­ing freeze. It has 117 va­cant po­si­tions that it is try­ing to fill and an­other 295 po­si­tions that are un­filled be­cause of­fi­cers are on med­i­cal or mil­i­tary leave, have been sus­pended or have been placed on light duty.

That leaves 2,213 of­fi­cers work­ing on the streets of Bal­ti­more, Davis said.

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