While city of Madison employees who drive heavy machinery and buses are subject to random drug testing, those charged with protecting the public are not, which may factor into why a Madison police detective was able to check out heroin from the Police Department's evidence room at least 10 times.
Despite the fact that several firefighters were fired for drug use in the aftermath of a federal raid in 1999 on the now-defunct Jocko's bar downtown, police and fire unions have succeeded in avoiding random drug testing, said Brad Wirtz, Madison human resources director.
Most other city workers are not required to take random drug tests, and police and fire employees often operate machinery as heavy as that used by those who are required to undergo such tests.
But according to Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, it's not unusual for police officers to be spared random testing, even though many people in the private sector are subjected to it.
"I don't know of a law enforcement agency in Dane County that does drug testing," he said, adding that few, if any, departments in the state require it.
He attributed the lack of testing to a "philosophical belief" that "there is an expectation that they're never under the influence of drugs obtained illegally or under the influence of alcohol when coming to work."
A former union president, Mahoney said testing is only done when there is a suspicion of drug or alcohol use, and that in the time since 1994 when he became involved with the union, no one has ever tested positive for drugs, though there have been instances of alcohol abuse.
Wirtz said of the testing of police officers and firefighters: "It doesn't happen very often, a handful of cases every year - maybe a couple."
Detective Jeffery Hughes, 39, has been in critical condition since Nov. 20, when his car abruptly veered into a guard rail on Interstate 39-90 and flipped, throwing him from the vehicle. He had earlier removed heroin from the Police Department's evidence room.
The criminal investigation into the matter has been turned over to the Dane County Sheriff's Office.
Court documents related to search warrants unsealed late last week indicate that his condition is "pretty bleak," and that if he survives he will potentially suffer "diminished capacities."
Mahoney said today that Hughes remained in an induced coma, but "he is improving."
The crash happened after Hughes had checked out 4.8 grams of heroin from the police property room before he left work and headed toward his home in Milton.
The drugs had been tested and had been slated for destruction, and Hughes had no direct involvement in the case, according to court documents. He also had no direct involvement in "the majority of" the cases resulting in the confiscation of heroin that Hughes allegedly checked out of the property room.
"We're looking at all the elements relating to a criminal investigation, not only the accident, but also including any on-duty behavior that involved obtaining drugs," Mahoney said.
Mahoney said investigators are looking at how Hughes was able to obtain the heroin when there were apparently warning signs that he had a drug problem.
An evidence clerk gave Hughes the drugs prior to the crash despite several reservations: He had no involvement in the case; he was not a member of the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force; and he filled out the request for the drugs with the reason being he wanted to have them tested, despite that fact that they'd already been tested.
Perhaps more perplexing, the clerk handed over the drugs when Hughes appeared to be in a "daze" and appeared "high."
Mahoney, citing the ongoing investigation, would not say if the clerk notified superiors about her concerns.
"Ultimately that will come out," he said.
Madison police officials have revised procedures for the evidence room checkouts to include the requirement that officers removing money, firearms, drugs and items of high value obtain authorization from a superior officer.
The department is in the process of conducting an internal investigation into evidence room policies and procedures that allowed Hughes to obtain the drugs on so many occasions, Mahoney said.
Mahoney said the criminal investigation is awaiting numerous lab tests, including a test to find out if Hughes had drugs in his system at the time of the crash.
The heroin was found inside his 1999 Acura, minus 0.4 grams, along with a plastic tube that could have been used to snort the drug. The drugs themselves are also being analyzed.
Mahoney said the investigation is moving slowly because of the wait for lab results and the inability to interview Hughes.
"He's also represented (by an attorney), so I don't know if we're going to be able to interview him," he said.
Mahoney said detectives are also looking at the possibility that Hughes, who had a history of suffering crippling headaches, was using the drugs for pain relief.
But he added, "If he was using the drugs for a medical condition, it's still unacceptable for a police officer."