Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sorry, no baldies

A bald man without much body hair was told he couldn't join the Northern Ireland Police Service. Why? Because he couldn't provide enough hair for a drugs test.

There are of course other sources of DNA for a drugs test - blood, skin, mouthwash, fingerprints, and amniotic fluid if you're female. Surprisingly, the police seemed to be unaware of this.

He* had to go to the High Court to get his application reconsidered, on the rather obvious grounds that the rejection was irrational and discriminatory. An entirely unnecessary legal detour.

Apart from the intriguing idea that serving police officers are likely to be high as a kite, and therefore have regular drug tests (well, I suppose they need something to cope with the stress and strain of the job), I'm struck by the sheer daftness of the reason for turning him away.

If the police don't know all the sources of DNA, you wonder what else they don't know. Do they know how to arrest someone? Do they know how to solve a crime? I'm getting a bit worried. I thought the police were highly-trained professionals, giving the criminals a run for their money. But maybe not. Maybe the next time I see a burglar, I'll call Miss Marple instead.

PS: It's been pointed out to me that hair contains drug traces for several months, while blood, skin etc only contain drug traces for a couple of days. This is why hair is the best source for random drug tests. But it still means ideal applicants can be refused for a comparatively trivial reason.

*His name has been withheld for security reasons.


  1. This is really stupid on the part of the police, Nick...Are they always this absurd?

    After dealing with such stupidity, why would anyone opt to join them?

  2. Nick, I haven't looked at the article yet, but here's the explanation: drugs stay in the blood and urine for, at most, a couple of days. The traces remain in hair follicles for up to three months. As they do the surprise testing on a non-regular basis, they need the more stringent test.

    Alas, there is in fact some sense to it. Although I feel certain he could plead his case somehow? It doesn't really seem fair to be excluded because you are hairless through no fault of your own...especially if you're gung-ho to do a job that many wouldn't want!

  3. e - I think I can only refer you to Leah's very helpful reply below!

    Leah - Thanks for that. I see the advantage of using hair, and I take your point about periodic testing. Now I'm beginning to think perhaps the police are justified in screening out the less hairy. God, I'm so easily persuaded....

  4. Well seeing as I've missed out on two jobs this week for not being an appropriate 'cultural fit' I can understand them needing an excuse to reject someone they don't deem suitable but this is just the daftest excuse ever. Here we DNA test via mouth swab. The only advantage of hair is that it retains traces of certain drugs for a longer period of time. The man has eyebrows doesn't he? Truly daft and what a waste of public money.

  5. Baino - By cultural fit do they by any chance mean "too old" or "too out of touch"? Job rejections seem full of cryptic euphemisms.

    Indeed, he must have eyebrows. I also question whether he has so little body hair they can't use some of that. Or does he wax it all?

  6. I also wondered about eyebrows and chest hair. And back hair. ;)

  7. Nick, you said 'A bald man without much body hair', how much hair do they need? A couple of strands or a tuft? I would have thought a couple of strands would be enough.

    I was not aware that traces of drugs stay in hair follicles for so long! I wonder does this vary on different parts of the body?

  8. I finally read the article. It really is interesting, and they accommodated him. It does seem as if it the original ruling was discriminatory, but still if they can't get as stringent a test on him, then it discriminates potentially against other police officers who are tested for drug use within the past several months (versus the past week or month).

    Ah well...

    re: eyebrows, they just aren't usually long enough.

  9. I've read enough detective yarns to know this.
    I also find fascinating how centuries old mysteries have been resolved through the DNA of hair which holds all the evidence.
    Maybe this guy is completely hairless, there is a name for that, too tired to look it up.
    But he will have a complete advantage over the other police if it's blood or skin.

  10. Liz - Yes, and lots of other places as well. He can't be that hairless, surely?

    Grannymar - The news story said they needed 200 body hairs. How could they possibly need that many?

    Leah - You're right, the other officers could then argue that THEY were being discriminated against! So eyebrows are too short? The story said they needed hairs 3 centimetres long.

    www - Is that possible, to be completely hairless? I suppose if a guy has high levels of female hormones that would mean very little body hair.

  11. Everything I know about police work I learned from Law and Order.

    This case does certainly seem discriminatory, especially considering he is applying for extremely dangerous work in service to the public. I hope he wins his appeal.

  12. Heart - The appeal did succeed so his application is proceeding again. As you say, when he's willing to do such a socially-important job, it would be crazy to reject him on such marginal grounds.

  13. truth is stranger than fiction sometimes!

  14. It does seem more than a little over the top!!

  15. Kylie - It certainly is. If I'd read this little episode in a book, I'd think it was pretty implausible....

    Distracted - No pun intended? If he had had a bit more over the top, he wouldn't have been turned down!

  16. In such cases, should it not be punishable by the selectors being asked to foot the litigation expenses? I know of an instance where this was done, and the department was asked to pay but the department went to court saying that the individual must be asked to pay, and so on and so forth and the tax payers paid for all this litigation. The original complainant merrily joined the department and had fun watching all this.

  17. Ramana - A moot point perhaps. Should the applicant pay because he objects to well-established procedures, or should the police pay because the procedures are unfair? I'm not surprised it went back and forth!

  18. That's crazy.

    But amniotic fluid? Why not include bone marrow or a brain biopsy while you're at it? Because getting amniotic fluid requires a really large needle, a risk to the fetus and a lot of pain (I know, I've been through an amniocentesis.)

  19. Secret Agent - Using amniotic fluid sounds pretty impractical, a desperate measure only. There are plenty of other sources, after all.