SAPD applicants no longer excluded for previous cocaine use

SAN ANTONIO – A past night of youthful partying and experimenting with drugs no longer means an automatic end to dreams of a law enforcement career with the city of San Antonio.

Under recent changes made to the Fire Fighters’ and Police Officers’ Civil Service Rules, some candidates who used cocaine in the past may be able to qualify for a job as a police officer.

“Most, if not all, other major cities here in Texas do not eliminate you for one use of cocaine,” SAPD Chief William McManus said, explaining the reasoning behind the change. “Given the day and age, we felt that it would keep us competitive and that it would not actually lower the standards.”

Previously, the prior use of any drugs classified as illegal by the federal government and the state of Texas led to automatic elimination of a job applicant.

Now, a candidate who used cocaine on one single occasion before the age of 25 can be forgiven and remain in the running for a police officer position.

“(That includes) someone who used cocaine, let’s say, when they were 18 or 19, at a party just to see what it was like,” McManus said.

He said while, even at a youthful age, the use of illegal drugs may show a propensity toward making bad decisions, he believes candidates have to be judged by “the maturity level and the age of the individual when they did it.”

Abigail Moore, chief executive officer of the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said that she “would prefer that none of our law enforcement officers would have experience with drug use,” but admits that finding that person is unlikely.

As for the allowance of some cocaine use while excluding other drug use, Moore said there are reasons. She said cocaine, although an illegal stimulant, is easier to shake than other drugs.

“Being able to recover from heroin use, being able to recover from methamphetamine use, the struggle is harder for those individuals,” she said.

Police departments in Dallas and Austin both make allowances for some prior drug use among job applicants, and decide on a case by case basis. The Houston Police Department makes no mention about drug use in its policy. A spokesman for HPD was unable to answer questions on the subject.