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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Thursday, February 16

Drug testing and public safety

I don't know how many people noticed the small update on the firefighter accused of smoking crack that ran on page 2A in the paper, but it's below if you want to read up.

The reason I draw attention to it is because of what the commissioner said about drug testing in the public safety department.

He said "I don't think it would be good for morale" for the members of the police and fire departments to be drug tested.

I know when police officers are hired, they go through rigorous background checks which, if I am not mistaken, does involve a drug test and even a polygraph test, but according to both Chief Williams and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, there is no drug testing policy whatsoever at the Fire Department.

“This was an isolated incident,” Mathiesen said. The commissioner said he doesn’t think drug testing would be good for the department’s morale.

Mathiesen said there was no indication that Moran ever used crack while working.

He said he believes random drug testing should only be used on “a case-by-case basis” or when an employee has demonstrated they have a history of drug abuse, but he would not comment specifically on Moran’s case or whether the drug abuse allegations against him warrant future drug testing. Otherwise, Mathiesen said he doesn’t believe drug testing is appropriate.

Commenting on The Saratogian story should have been closed (it was an oversight) because it is a crime story, but anyone can feel free to comment on this blog about it because already this morning people had a lot to say about it.

Of course, instead of talking about the accused (which is what we're trying to avoid by limiting commenting), everyone commented about the lack of drug testing.

I feel that I buried the lead on this story because no one commented about the firefighter, which was the impetus for writing the story in the first place. I only asked about the policy because I thought it should be included.

Who knew I would hear there isn't one?

It seems strange (crazy) to me that there is no drug testing policy for the SSPD or FD.

There is a drug testing policy for Walmart, and those people rarely drive a 20 ton truck at high rates of speed and don't have much on-the-job access to drugs, unlike the PD and FD, who administer drugs as paramedics. Not to mention I would guess the stress levels are probably higher in public safety (though my blood pressure does climb when I walk through the doors at Walmart).

Mathiesen pointed out as a dentist he too can write prescriptions for anything and all of the drugs at the FD are carefully monitored, but it still seems like good practice to test.

"If there is a problem," he said there should be testing. "I think that is a tool to be used on a case-by-case basis ... there is no indication at all that he was using on the job."

Of course, a drug test would prove that for sure.

I talked to someone from the State Police and they have a random drug testing policy. I'm still waiting to hear back from the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department about it.

I'm talking to Chief Chris Cole later today about something totally unrelated and I'll ask him about his feelings on the issue.

To me, it seems to be a liability issue they would be good to avoid. Test the employees (obviously I would assume 99.9999 percent of the time there would not be an issue) and that way you avoid issues like the alleged one here.

Full story below, feel free to comment on the blog because you won't be able to comment on the story on The Saratogian's website.


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Disciplinary action is still pending for the Saratoga Springs firefighter who was arrested for crack possession last week.

“That is still being evaluated,” Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Robert Williams said. He would not comment further because it is a personnel issue.

Justin Moran, 31, of Leonard Road, a firefighter with the Saratoga Springs Fire Department for six years, was arrested Feb. 9 along with his live-in girlfriend, Janel Sweet, 30, following a Saratoga Springs Police Department investigation. They were charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony, criminal possession of hypodermic needles, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors.

Neither the Saratoga Springs Fire Department nor Police Department test their employees for drugs, and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said he doesn’t think they should.

“This was an isolated incident,” Mathiesen said. The commissioner said he doesn’t think drug testing would be good for the department’s morale.

Mathiesen said there was no indication that Moran ever used crack while working.

He said he believes random drug testing should only be used on “a case-by-case basis” or when an employee has demonstrated they have a history of drug abuse, but he would not comment specifically on Moran’s case or whether the drug abuse allegations against him warrant future drug testing. Otherwise, Mathiesen said he doesn’t believe drug testing is appropriate.

According to court documents, Moran and Sweet were in possession of more than half a gram of crack cocaine, crack pipes and hypodermic needles at their residence.

They were charged with endangering the welfare of a child because their two young children were in the home and, according to police, they “left numerous used hypodermic needles around the house,” all of which were within reach of the children.

Court documents show that when police were searching the house, both Moran and Sweet made admissions to police about the drugs.

“You’re wasting your time. What you’re looking for is not here,” Sweet told Saratoga Springs Police Lt. John Catone. “We use it and smoke it as fast as we get it.”

Police said they found crack, though, on a paper plate in the stairwell of the basement, along with crack pipes.

Investigators also said Moran told them, “I take full responsibility for what was found in my house. I do use drugs and I have been dealing with depression.” He then allegedly told them, “I feel awful about all of this.”

Both were out on bail the next day after being held on $15,000 cash or $30,000 bail bond and are due back in Saratoga Springs City Court March 15.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about this - in the perfect world this would not be necessary. These are idealistically (and in most cases) men and women who decide on a career of public service. Part of that career is that they have access to people and people's property when they are at need. We are a society and they as a profession should focus on the highest ethics levels. The professionals should in my opinion sit down and ask themselves what can they do after this allegation to prove to the community that they continue at the highest ethical level.

Because this is a personnel matter, we do not know why the person in question has been suspended from the fire department. It could be that the fire department (management and union combined) knew that there was a problem and took appropriate actions. In my opinion to take another viewpoint may be seeing people at their lowest rather than at their highest.

On a practical basis, there is a constitutional issue of the Government requiring unreasonable search without just cause. We would not want to violate an employee's constitutional rights. A private company does not have this concern.

Another practical concern, is that these men and women have a contract with the city. (As I say that, they may be working under an old contract under the Taylor Law.) I am sure if this is a requirement for employment then it would have to negotiated.

It is horrible that people would have to be drug tested when they are in public service. It is a violation of the level of trust between the community and employees. It is a lose - lose situation.

The other lose-lose situation is that the City employees especially in public safety seem to have certain issues. Some of these individuals lost their job because of issues outside their job. These are individuals that have had a large background check (costing $) and then training (costing $$$). It would be interesting to learn how much money we spend on employees getting their prepared to work in public safety. Then we lose the employee and their shift must covered by Over Time of other employees. I wonder what is the employee assistance program offered by the City? This might be a very cost-effect alternative compared to losing one or so highly trained employee a year.

February 16, 2012 at 11:55 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i cant believe that the reason no drug testing is because of morale!??? i dont think that anybody would want to chance on a life & death call,to just assume that every single employee is clean. we all no that in any line of work,you will find drug abuse.

February 16, 2012 at 12:05 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public servants like police officers and firemen should be drug tested. They have big responsibility and receive big pay(overtime and longevity). We shouldn't risk our city and it's citizens by assuming every cop and firemen is clean.

February 16, 2012 at 12:16 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Test them all from the Mayor and his staff on down. I'd love to see the Mayors office submitted. Test everyone and there is no discrimination issue.

February 16, 2012 at 2:51 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All public employees should have drug testing..... Thank you for re-posting the article where comments can be made.

They should include caseworkers too. If we care about our people and out town we would do it or is it all about politics?

Caseworkers in saratoga county have 41% turnover rate. Trying to get people to care about something that should be a no brainer has been surprising difficult to say the least.

No my problem .. most say.... really?
With that attitude is certainly SHOULD NOT be your problem... you should be out of office.

February 16, 2012 at 3:07 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read this article the Stuff is all over.

February 16, 2012 at 3:23 PM 
Anonymous Milhouse said...

"After several significant transportation accidents, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, because they recognized the safety need for ensuring drug- and alcohol-free transportation employees. The "Act" required DOT Agencies to implement drug testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees in the aviation, trucking (including school bus drivers, and certain limousine and van drivers), railroads, mass transit, and pipelines industries. In 1994, DOT added alcohol testing requirements to its regulations."

I'm not a big fan of drug testing without cause, but I get drug-tested for my desk job that has no public safety component to it whatsoever. And if we require it of bus drivers, it seems to be appropriate to test police and fire personnel, at all levels.

February 16, 2012 at 4:32 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe there is a precedent here. NYC approved this in 2009 I believe. Havbg stated that I would assume anyone in DPS would welcome this not only for their protection but that of the community as well. The status quo is no longer acceptable. How can someone addicted as stated by Mr. Moran work 24 hours without the need. This can present a dangerous situation for his team and also those serviced by this team during the shift. I really don't see an alternative considering the dramaic increase in drug use especially with those who work in high pressure situations.

February 16, 2012 at 4:59 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Mathiesan...
I have no desire to be anonymous my name is Henry Priester. I am blogging about an obvious issue..A drug arrest of a Saratoga Springs Fireman also charged with child endangermant.Sir..You were elected to a position of public trust..Trust works both ways...You are in charge of our Fire and Police departments...I respectfully ask you to make a public statement regarding this issue and how you are dealing with it..Thank you..

February 16, 2012 at 5:02 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is going to happen to the cost of liability insurance for the city because a city might be under the influance?

Don't think an employer can selectively drug test as the Comm of PS suggests. The city as an employer can and should drug test all city employees.

February 16, 2012 at 7:02 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glens falls drug tests

February 16, 2012 at 7:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes - Abolsolutey test SSPD and SSFD.

February 16, 2012 at 9:45 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the follow up. Keep digging.

February 16, 2012 at 11:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The police union agreed to drug testing , the City decided against starting the program due to cost involved.

February 17, 2012 at 8:17 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During your meeting with Chief Cole, ask him why he reduced the number of police officers assigned to the weekend bar, Caroline Street, crowd control. He reduced the police officers on the street, on all shifts, new staffing guidelines go into effect 2/18!

February 17, 2012 at 8:24 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine if they ever drug-tested every State employee in Albany ? The results would raise more than a few eyebrows.

February 17, 2012 at 7:42 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it unreal that the city would not want to drug test police & firefighters???? How about all their brothers & sisters in their union???? Who would want a drug impaired person driving a firetruck or pulling his or her gun out???? HOW LONG DOES CRACK STAY IN YOUR BODY OR EFFECTS YOUR THINKING???????WOW!!!!!!!!! PLEASE STAY ON TOP OF THIS!!!! IT MAY BE UNSAFE TO TAKE A WALK DOWN THE STREET!

February 18, 2012 at 7:19 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All City Workers should welcome a drug test to eliminate the scruting that is and will continue to exist. Commisioner Matteison is over his head and hust a puppet for the Democrtic Party. What experience at all does he have for handling a situation like this. he has already bungled the takeover of the Ambulance Service, attempted to circumvent the Charter he swore to updold and now is proting people creating a shortage of officers on the street. There is almost a 2-1 ratio of officers inside City Hall to those working outside City Hall. Let's get some Lieutenants on the streets working the weekend swhich is the busiest time frame. OOOOps - Can't do that. They all have weekend off. A sargeant runs the Police Force the majority of the weekend. great operational plan. We have out lngest term employees tanning themselves on the weekend while the rank and file inclduing the recnetly graduated cadets filing the gaps in coverage and taking the majority of the risks. Thank you Lou Benton, Tom Curley and Ron Kim for these gracious contracts. The funny thing is when the layoffs come the people doing the heavy lifting are the first to go. Now we need not only addiitonal police but additional FFs as well. DPS is up to almost 53% of the budget now. Next year maybe 55%.It only takes a majority of the Council to override the cap. Taxpayers - Watch your wallets.

February 18, 2012 at 7:43 PM 
Anonymous ARCpoint Richmond said...

Great points!

February 21, 2012 at 8:02 PM 
Anonymous ARCpoint Labs of Seattle said...

It is important for Public servants; such as, police officers,firemen etc should be drug tested... I don't think there should be any question about that.

February 22, 2012 at 2:30 PM 
Anonymous Arc point Worcester said...

Very good points. Will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

March 1, 2012 at 9:53 PM 

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