ARLINGTON -- Sometimes even police officers need to be reminded to drive safely.Outfitted with cellphones, radios to communicate with dispatch and in-car computers, Arlington police have no shortage of distractions while patrolling in their mobile offices.Occasionally, that technology can take an officer's focus away from the road for too long, department officials said. At least 18 Arlington officers have been involved in crashes with other cars, curbs, fences and poles over the past three years because they were looking at their devices, not where they were driving, according to police records.To prevent more wrecks, the Police Department updated its driving policy -- written before the invention of smartphones -- last month to restrict officers' cellphone and computer activity behind the wheel. The new policy now specifically bans officers from texting, posting to blogs or tweeting while driving a department vehicle.The policy change comes one year after police began enforcing an ordinance that bans drivers, with the exception of public safety officers, from texting or using cellphones for anything other than phone calls."Although the vast majority of Arlington police officers drive millions of miles on city streets and highways without incident, there have been a few instances where officers were distracted to the point that a crash occurred," interim Police Chief Will Johnson said.All 640 officers are also required to undergo training next year designed to keep them focused on the road and not technology."Our goal is zero crashes," Johnson said.Of the 18 crashes related to electronic devices since July 2009, seven involved officers colliding with other vehicles, according to police records.Only one collision was serious enough to send both the officer and the other driver to the hospital for injuries, which were minor.Review orderedAfter being appointed acting police chief in April, Johnson ordered a review of the department's driving policy and crash review process and also directed supervisors to talk with officers about maintaining the community's trust through good driving behavior."The public is always watching us. They should. We want to make sure we are setting that example for the community," said Sgt. Christopher Cook, a department spokesman.That review led the department to require eight hours of advanced driver training for each officer next year and to spell out in writing how officers should handle technology while driving, such as requiring the use of hands-free cellphones when possible and prohibiting typing while the patrol vehicle is in motion."Technology has a place in law enforcement when it's used effectively and responsibly," Cook said. "The current policy was outdated and needed to be enhanced to protect our city and to protect our citizens."Cook said those policy changes were already under review when KXAS NBC 5 aired a news report last month on the department's 18 distracted-driving crashes since 2009. The station obtained the crash reports through an open-records request as part of its investigation this year of crashes statewide linked to some type of distraction inside emergency vehicles.In Fort WorthThe Fort Worth Police Department also took steps recently to make its officers safer while driving police vehicles.In August, Police Chief Jeff Halstead issued guidelines restricting officers' use of technology, such as their in-car computers, while driving. The Fort Worth Police Academy also began offering additional driving training in October not only to the city's police force but also to officers from surrounding agencies, said Cpl. Tracey Knight, a police spokeswoman.The department also plans to review technology such as the Archangel II device used by police in Fort Wayne, Ind. The device can shut down the in-car computer's functions when the vehicle reaches a certain speed.The device requires officers to pull over before they can input data -- other than one-button functions that communicate information to dispatchers such as being en route to a call or on scene -- on their computers. Fort Worth is awaiting a test device to determine its feasibility for the city but does not have funding for such equipment, Knight said."The Fort Worth Police Department is constantly reviewing policies and procedures to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep pace with technology for the safety of our officers as well as the public that we serve," she said.Citizen commentOfficers' involvement in these accidents after the Arlington City Council banned texting by other drivers has not escaped notice."There has been citizen comment about the potential for officers to be driving distracted," said Councilman Robert Rivera, who pushed for the ban on texting along with Mayor Robert Cluck. "This type of proactive effort shows nationwide leadership from our Police Department to help ensure increased roadway public safety."All officer-involved crashes are reviewed by an appointed panel of supervisors and peer officers, and the employee could face discipline ranging from a verbal warning to termination.One officer, Paul Helton, was fired in 2011 after being involved in his eighth collision in a police vehicle since 2007, according to police records. Helton had been sanctioned for the previous crashes, including a one-day suspension, a five-day suspension and a one-year assignment to the department's front desk without driving capabilities.Besides the new policy and required training, Arlington police are sharing monthly defensive driving tips with officers through the police chief's newsletter."At the end of the day, we have to be accountable for our driving and with that said, concentrating on driving has to come first," Cook said.Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578Twitter: @susanschrock
Arlington officers have been involved in 18 collisions since July 2009 because of distractions in their patrol cars, according to city records.
July 25, 2009
900 E. Brown Blvd.
An officer rear-ended a motorist at a red light because he was reading his in-car computer and talking on his radio. No injuries.
Aug. 2, 2009
6000 Lavaca Drive
An officer talking on her radio while pursuing a shooting suspect rear-ended another police vehicle that had stopped because the suspect had crashed.
Sept. 21, 2009
200 Terry Lewis St.
An officer talking on his radio sideswiped a fence while leaving the police station and broke a mirror on his patrol car.
Jan. 2, 2010
2001 New York Ave.
An officer looking at his computer struck a light pole in a parking lot.
Feb. 4, 2010
2225 Arlington Downs Road
An officer looking at his computer struck at light pole in a parking lot.
March 30, 2010
2300 Southeast Parkway
An officer looking at her computer hit a street sign.
May 18, 2010
2200 E. Park Row Drive
An officer running motorists' license plates on his in-car computer made a left turn onto Sherry Drive but failed to yield to another motorist who was also crossing the intersection with a green light. The officer and the female driver of the other vehicle were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
June 23, 2010
1700 Brown Blvd.
An officer distracted by something in his vehicle drove off the road and struck a utility pole.
June 29, 2010
3800 S. Cooper St.
An officer adjusting his air conditioner controls struck a curb.
Aug. 17, 2010
7900 S. Collins St.
An officer who was looking at her computer and speeding drove through a construction barricade.
Aug. 31, 2010
100 W. Division St.
An officer looking down to search for a channel on his police radio drove into the back of a box truck that was stopped at a red light at the Center Street intersection. No injuries.
Sept. 29, 2010
1700 Hardisty Drive
An officer typing on his computer turned left too sharply onto Hardisty Drive and struck the front end of another vehicle waiting to turn onto Cooper Street. No injuries.
Oct. 4, 2010
5600 S. Collins St.
An officer looking at his computer rear-ended a truck stopped in front of him at a red light after he said his foot slipped off the brake. No injuries.
Oct. 4, 2010
2500 E. Abram St.
An officer looking up a phone number on her computer drove into a curb.
Oct. 27, 2010
2300 S. Cooper St.
An officer using his computer drifted out of his lane and struck a center divider.
Nov. 4, 2010
700 Cooper Square Circle
An officer looking at his computer backed into a fence at an apartment complex.
Jan. 1, 2011
700 Jordan Lane
An officer reportedly looking at pending calls for service on his computer struck an unoccupied parked vehicle while turning left onto Jordan Lane from Dogwood Drive. No injuries.
April 5, 2011
1400 N. Collins St.
An officer distracted by his computer rear-ended a vehicle on North Collins Street that had slowed for other traffic. No injuries.
Source: Arlington Police Department