State attorney defends use of field drug test kits

In our seven-month investigation, we have heard from victims, from sheriffs, from judges, and we've even heard from top scientists who showed us how unreliable field drug test kits can be.

Now, for the first time, we're hearing from  Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober, who defends the use of these kits for making arrests but acknowledges that, when not used properly, they kits can lead to incorrect interpretations and endanger officer safety.

In a letter to FOX 13, he says, for decades they've "...continuously proven to be a reliable resource for probable cause determination" when "used and interpreted correctly."

But one of the manufacturers, Safariland Group, suggests something different.

In a notarized email, the forensic product manager writes that these "tests should be the last item to be checked off the probable cause list, not the first, second or even third."

He continued, "users of our kits run into stuff that mimics or duplicate positive reactions all the time."

Another manufacturer, Sirchie, agrees, saying, "even in the hands of the most proficient user," the kits "can give false positives as well as false negatives."

While presumptive tests are still being used to make arrests, small changes are being made.  Ober concludes his letter saying "the drug kits contain clear instructions that don't require specific training"  but he suggests "law enforcement establish training protocols to minimize the possibility of user errors."

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office was first agency to recognize the issue and immediately make positive changes.  They stopped using the presumptive tests that were a problem and they now have mandatory training for all their deputies.

HCSO is  also establishing new training protocol that will be introduced soon that every police agency in the county will follow.