Past ‘pot’ use will no longer bar you from becoming a Chicago cop

SHARE Past ‘pot’ use will no longer bar you from becoming a Chicago cop

Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted new Chicago Police Academy recruits last year. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department has quietly relaxed its hiring standards to eliminate past marijuana use as an automatic disqualifier, provided candidates have not smoked pot in the last three years, the chairman of the city’s Human Resources Board disclosed Friday.

Testifying before the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development, Chairman Salvador A. Cicero also disclosed that the three-member board is seeing a lot of appeals from police candidates who have been disqualified for using Adderall.

That’s an addictive drug that works as a stimulant and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.

“Apparently, a lot of people within the last generation have been using Adderall without a prescription,” Cicero told aldermen, who voted to reappoint him.

“We were faced with a lot of cases that were getting taken off the list from people who had been given Adderall. So then, you turn to, `Did you take it knowing that it was prescribed for somebody else? Or did somebody give you this?’“

Cicero said the board has changed the way it handles Adderall- and marijuana-related disqualifications because the police department has relaxed its standards.

“We have rules that have to do with, `You cannot use drugs that have not been prescribed to you.’ And we have to follow those rules. Those actually have been revised by the police . . . If you’re given a drug not prescribed to you that’ll probably make you ineligible. But it’s on a specific case-by-case basis,” the chairman said.

“Before, there were different types of drug usage that would knock you off. Those have also been revised…Now, if you’ve used marijuana within three years, then you’re out….It’s less time than before.”

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi was asked how and why the hiring rules were revised.

“While current drug use is grounds for disqualification for hire with the Chicago Police Department, we look at each applicant on a case-by-case basis to evaluate the circumstances around historical usage and experimentation,” he said.

“For the current hiring plan, our standards were recently modified and conform to national best hiring practices for major city police departments and many federal law enforcement agencies. Individuals who have used or experimented with certain types of narcotics in the past must undergo additional background investigation into the reasons behind the drug use.”

Workforce Development Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said it makes sense to relax the rules on marijuana use.

He noted some states are “legalizing marijuana — and not just for medical use. At some point in time, we’re gonna have to make decisions that are less strict than they have been in the past. Especially when the drop-out rate of candidates who finish is so high,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor also argued that Adderall should not be an automatic disqualifier when it has been widely-used by students to “keep them sharp” and help them study for and focus during major exams.

“Technically, if you take the police exam and you don’t answer that question honestly, you can be dinged. And if you answer it honestly, you can be dinged for using prescription drugs that aren’t your prescription,” O’Connor said.

“There’s a distinction between someone who is a habitual narcotics user and someone who is taking, what apparently is the substitute for coffees [or No-Doze] when we were taking tests.”

The police academy has been churning out monthly classes like a conveyor belt in a race to complete Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers over and above attrition.

The strain of that hiring blitz is being felt at the Human Resources Board — so much so that 80 percent of its cases involve disqualified police candidates appealing that decision.

If hiring continues at the same frenzied pace, the board “may have to hire another hearing officer,” Cicero said.

In December, Emanuel opened the door to allowing candidates with minor drug and criminal offenses to join the force to attract minorities at a time of high crime and deep distrust of police under pressure from the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucuses.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the Black Caucus, was surprised, but delighted that the Police Department had at least started to follow those recommendations.

“I don’t want youthful indiscretions to be a prohibiting factor for being able to serve on the Police Department,” he said.

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