Police departments knowingly use a drug test that gives false positives; they use it because it’s cheap
Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sander report at ProPublica:
Tens of thousands of people every year are sent to jail based on the results of a $2 roadside drug test. Widespread evidence shows that these tests routinely produce false positives. Why are police departments and prosecutors still using them?
AMY ALBRITTON can’t remember if her boyfriend signaled when he changed lanes late that August afternoon in 2010. But suddenly the lights on the Houston Police patrol car were flashing behind them, and Anthony Wilson was navigating Albritton’s white Chrysler Concorde to a stop in a strip-mall parking lot. It was an especially unwelcome hassle. Wilson was in Houston to see about an oil-rig job; Albritton, volunteering her car, had come along for what she imagined would be a vacation of sorts. She managed an apartment complex back in Monroe, La., and the younger of her two sons — Landon, 16, who had been disabled from birth by cerebral palsy — was with his father for the week. After five hours of driving through the monotony of flat woodland, the couple had checked into a motel, carted their luggage to the room and returned to the car, too hungry to rest but too drained to seek out anything more than fast food. Now two officers stepped out of their patrol car and approached.
Albritton, 43, had dressed up for the trip — black blouse, turquoise necklace, small silver hoop earrings glinting through her shoulder-length blond hair. Wilson, 28, was more casually dressed, in a white T-shirt and jeans, and wore a strained expression that worried Albritton. One officer asked him for his license and registration. Wilson said he didn’t have a license. The car’s registration showed that it belonged to Albritton.
The officer asked Wilson to step out of the car. Wilson complied. The officer leaned in over the driver’s seat, looked around, then called to his partner; in the report Officer Duc Nguyen later filed, he wrote that he saw a needle in the car’s ceiling lining. Albritton didn’t know what he was talking about. Before she could protest, Officer David Helms had come around to her window and was asking for consent to search the car. If Albritton refused, Helms said, he would call for a drug-sniffing dog. Albritton agreed to the full search and waited nervously outside the car.
Helms spotted a white crumb on the floor. In the report, Nguyen wrote that the officers believed the crumb was crack cocaine. They handcuffed Wilson and Albritton and stood them in front of the patrol car, its lights still flashing. They were on display for rush-hour traffic, criminal suspects sweating through their clothes in the 93-degree heat. . .
Continue reading. Please read the whole thing. It’s a lengthy article, but it does reveal yet another way in which the US criminal justice system is very badly broken, and any impetus to fix it seems to be absent.