In 2015, a multi-city investigation into $2 roadside drug tests commonly used by law enforcement agencies unveiled hundreds of wrongful convictions in Houston alone. After the unreliability of these tests was exposed, many of the defendants had their cases overturned. Now, Houston police are finally changing their drug testing policy.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced a policy shift to end the use of the “chemical field test” kits that too often produce false positives. The reasoning, however, isn’t the tests’ questionable accuracy, but rather the risk of officers coming in contact with dangerous substances during testing. With the rise in fentanyl abuse, an opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, the chief said it was time to be concerned about officer safety.
A recent case out of Florida shows that the tests remain unreliable, and while departments with tight budgets may appreciate their relative low cost, it’s not worth the personal or public affairs cost that comes with a wrongful conviction.
In addition to the Houston Police Department, a local news outlet has reported that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Pasadena Police, Metro Police, and Constable Precincts 3, 4, 7 and 8 will also stop using the controversial tests.
While it is good that the test’s use is coming to an end, it should have been done after hundreds of wrongful convictions.
According to Acevedo, officers will now use their “training” to visibly identify drugs which will then be tested by the crime lab before charges are brought. Unfortunately, with Houston’s current bail system holding hundreds of misdemeanor defendants before trial simply because they can’t afford bond, that may mean many will sit in jail for days waiting for the drug test results to come back.