Ohio fire chiefs now subject to random drug tests

The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus police and fire chiefs now are subject to random drug tests, a move safety officials hope will increase accountability and trust within the divisions.

The city started the random tests for its highest-ranking officers a few months ago. It’s the first time it has done so. Regular officers and firefighters have been subject to random tests for years.

Safety Director Mitchell J. Brown’s office said there wasn’t a particular reason for the new testing other than to hold chiefs to the same standards as their subordinates.

“There was an internal policy change that occurred earlier this year,” said Amanda Ford, a spokeswoman for Brown’s office. “They will all be tested at least once a year.”

The pool includes Police Chief Kim Jacobs and her deputy chiefs and Fire Chief Greg Paxton and his assistant chiefs. The testing is done by a subsidiary of OhioHealth.

Ford said none of the chiefs has tested positive for any banned substances.

Chiefs will be scanned for prescription drugs, steroids and illegal narcotics. Those who test positive for prescription drugs will have to produce a doctor’s order for the drug, according to the city’s policy. All officers are subject to alcohol testing if there is suspicion of abuse.

Paxton said he learned of the new testing process when one of his assistant chiefs missed a staff meeting to take a random test.

He said his five assistant chiefs have no issues with the policy.

Police Officer Matthew Freetage, 34, was suspended in June and faces termination after an investigation found that he bought and used prescription drugs while on duty. Investigators determined that he purchased Vicodin and Percocet while in uniform. Freetage said he was conducting a narcotics investigation that he had not told his supervisors about.

Also this year, former Officer Stevie Billups was sentenced to 57 months in prison for selling heroin and helping a suspected drug dealer while on duty.

“There have been suspensions, possibly even a termination or two, but most officers and firefighters, when faced with this issue, end up resigning,” Deputy Safety Director Dan Giangardella said.

In some cases, employees who test positive have the option to enter a diversion program without losing their jobs.

Union officials said they are satisfied that random testing will be done on everyone.

“We believe in ‘lead by example,’ so I think this is very appropriate,” said Jason Pappas, the president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9. “It speaks well that they are willing to be subject to it just like we are.”

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