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The City of Boston has spent nearly $1.6 million over the past decade fighting lawsuits against the Boston Police Department’s use of hair testing of officers for drug use, and has had mixed success.

Three law firms have represented the city since a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers and 10 former officers who were fired after their hair tested positive for drugs. In the lawsuit, officers alleged that the mandatory hair test, which replaced a urine test and is given annually a month before officers’ birthdays, is discriminatory because black officers’ hair texture makes them more susceptible to false positives.


Earlier this month, the state’s highest court let stand a ruling that the department wrongly fired six of the 10 officers for whom the test was the only evidence showing drug use by the officers after the lower courts found that the tests are not reliable enough to support termination without additional evidence. However, the courts upheld the termination of four other officers who tested positive for drugs between 2001 and 2006.

The city also won a federal case challenging the use of the test by the police department last year. In his decision, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs “failed to present evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that the hair drug test is not predictive of or significantly correlated with drug use.”

“There is no evidence to show that hair testing is not a valid test for drug use,” Boston police spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said Wednesday. “Which is why we continue to use it currently.”

Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog, said that while $1.6 million is a lot of money to defend the cases, “the city needs to be sure that police officers are mentally alert and sober when on duty.” The department’s 2016 budget is $323 million.


“It is important to have this test until perhaps there is a better one,” he said. “If they’re convinced the hair test is the best to determine the condition of their officers then they would defend it. Safety is critical.”

But critics of the test said Wednesday that they believe the test is unreliable and not accepted science and will continue to challenge its use.

The hair test “has been found to be scientifically flawed and discriminatory against African-Americans,” Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the federal case. “It is a tremendous investment in programs that are standing in the way of diversifying the police department.”

But Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said the hair test “is the best test out there.”

“I wish we could have spent the money in better ways,” Evans said referring to the legal fees. “But again, I’m not going to put people on the street who are under the influence.”

The city also spent nearly $806,000 to fend off challenges to the department’s promotional exams for sergeants and lieutenants.

A federal judge ruled last year that the city discriminated against officers of color by using a 2008 promotional exam to select police lieutenants that was slanted in favor of white candidates. The city has filed an appeal of that decision, and won a case that challenged the fairness of the sergeants exam.


Evans said the department invested $2.1 million for an oral exam last year, but that the results were the same.

“I need the best possible people out there who know the laws and procedures,” Evans said. “I’m all for diversity. I can’t promote people who are not qualified.”

“I have a lot of great minority supervisors,” Evans said. “This job — given the complexity, given the use of force liability — I need qualified supervisors.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.