Over the weekend, the Houston Police Department made a big change in procedure. Chief Art Acevedo announced that starting Saturday at midnight, Houston police as well as Harris County law enforcement will end narcotics field testing — that’s the practice of using inexpensive drug tests during traffic stops to try to determine whether or not suspicious substances are illegal narcotics.
Acevedo says the change is meant to keep police safe from exposure to powerful opioids like fentanyl, which can cause overdoses if even a small amount is accidentally inhaled or ingested. But the $2 tests have been controversial in their own right.
ProPublica Reporter Ryan Gabrielson has been investigating the use of police drug testing kits and says they aren’t very precise and can give false positives for illicit drugs. The kits are used as a bargaining chip when it comes to plea deals, even though the test results would be inadmissible in a trial because of their inaccuracy.
“As widespread as the prohibition on these field tests are at trial, they are admitted as preliminary evidence at the only stage it really counts, which is the preliminary hearings where people overwhelmingly plead guilty to take a deal to the criminal charges they’re facing,” Gabrielson says.
Written by Caroline Covington.