- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Prospective troopers no longer have to have a spotless record to join the Virginia State Police.
The policy change means people who say they have tried heroin or cocaine or have a drunken-driving conviction are no longer automatically disqualified from employment.
Officials insist the change is not a lowering of standards.
"It's the right thing to do in some situations," said Lt. Col. Donald R. Martin, the agency's deputy superintendent.
The new requirements will better take into account "a person's entire employment and life history," Col. Martin said, and doesn't automatically disqualify an otherwise-worthy candidate for a mistake made early in life.
"Our present policy would not allow us to even consider that person at all, even if they've lived an exemplary life" after a mistake they made as a teen-ager, Col. Martin said.
Some veteran officers have privately expressed dismay about the new policy, which was distributed within the department last week. They fear the measure, which became effective last Friday, will put unsuitable officers in their ranks and tarnish the department's reputation of accepting only the best.
"I think it would lower the standards," one officer told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "You got to be real careful when you start dealing with hard drugs."
Col. Martin downplayed those concerns.
"It just gives us an opportunity to make our process more open and fair," he said. "We're not going to employ anyone and put them in this blue-and-gray uniform that does not meet the high standards of Virginia State Police."
Col. Martin said the change doesn't necessarily mean that a person who has used drugs or was convicted of drunken driving would be hired. It simply allows the department to consider the person as a candidate.
"We could at least delve a little bit further into his background to see if this was a pattern or to see if it was just a one-time mistake the person made," he said.
According to the new guidelines, a person convicted of driving under the influence more than five years before the date of his application would be eligible for consideration. Anyone with more than one DUI conviction would automatically be disqualified.
In addition, anyone who admitted to using heroin, cocaine or any other Schedule I or Schedule II drug more than five years before applying could be considered. However, if an applicant used those drugs more than once, he or she would be disqualified.
In addition, any use of LSD or PCP would result in automatic disqualification.
A different standard applies to marijuana use. An applicant could have admitted to using it more than once to be considered eligible for employment, but not within the past 12 months.
State police are following the lead of many other municipal police agencies.
In Chesterfield County, for example, police last fall changed the DUI standard that would allow candidates to have a drunken-driving conviction if it occurred more than eight years before they applied. The department still disqualifies candidates who have admitted using hard drugs even once, said John McLenagan, the department's personnel director.


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