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Rule will loosen past marijuana use restrictions on potential police officers

February 5, 2017 GMT

Submitted photoBy Debbie Bryce, For the JournalA new rule approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week will loosen restrictions for prospective law enforcement officers who have used marijuana in the past.

Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Director Victor McCraw said Thursday that under the rule, prospective officers could be barred from certification if they have used marijuana in the last year. That time restraint was reduced from three years.

McCraw said law enforcement agencies in Idaho can opt to enforce the current three-year restriction, but the new rule allows qualified, potential officers coming to Idaho from neighboring states where recreational marijuana use is legal to be hired if they have not used marijuana for a period of one year.

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“This isn’t going to solve all the applicant pool problems, but it provides a reasonable, absolute time frame,” McCraw said.

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen also serves on the POST Council, and he said the new rule was in response to Idaho counties bordering Oregon and Washington where marijuana use is now legal.

“It broadens the pool of potential officers,” Nielsen said. “But agencies can choose to adhere to the current standard. That was the compromise.”

As well as extensive background checks, psychological screenings and drug testing, potential officers in most Idaho agencies submit to a polygraph examination before being hired, Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the three-year restriction has not been an issue for his Southeast Idaho office, and for now, he plans to stick to the current standard.

The cities of Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Soda Springs said they plan to enforce the current three-year rule as well.

However, Soda Springs Police Chief Jon Bunderson said he would review individual circumstances under the new rule, and he said recruitment numbers are down for his rural department.

Bunderson said smaller agencies such as his have a hard time competing with wages paid to officers in larger departments, and while the city of Soda Springs pays a higher than average entry-level wage, keeping officers is challenging. Seasoned officers often move on to higher paying jobs at larger departments or counties.

“It saddens me that we’ve come to this, and even though applicants are down, I won’t sacrifice integrity for state standards,” Bunderson said.

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Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland said he doesn’t plan to loosen his hiring standards.

Like Bannock County, Rowland said all deputies sign on as detention officers and are promoted to patrol.

“I have no problem recruiting officers and see no reason to change my standards,” Rowland said.

Idaho State Police Capt. Eric Dayley said the Idaho State Police operates its own police academy and 30 new officers are currently in training. Dayley said six of those officers will go on patrol in Southeast Idaho. It’s the largest group of officers to be enrolled at the ISP academy.

The 16-week course is POST approved and includes additional training in federal motor vehicle law and crash scene investigation.

Dayley said ISP is looking to hire an additional 15 officers statewide, and it received about 200 applications for those positions. He said he was unaware of any changes being made to ISP’s restriction regarding marijuana use, but Dayley said that if the Legislature approves the measure, the state police will support it.