Fort Worth police stopped motorists — to gather saliva and blood samples?

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy UPDATE: On Facebook, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead has apologized for allowing police to work the survey off-duty . (He also went out of his way to publish the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration phone number and email for complaints. — Bud Kennedy)

A federal agency wants samples of our saliva, blood and breath.

And Fort Worth police helped collect them.

A police spokesman confirmed Tuesday that off-duty officers set up checkpoints on busy streets Friday, ordering motorists off the road at random to collect samples for a nationwide federal survey of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving.

Motorists were asked to pull into a parking lot, give a cheek swab and volunteer for a blood or breath test. Those who agreed were paid $10 to $50.

Those who didn’t could leave after a short interview.

But nobody was given the choice to just not stop.

Police officials will review whether policies were followed in setting up the checkpoint, the spokesman said, apologizing if anyone was “offended or inconvenienced.”

Look, if police order me to pull out of busy traffic on North Beach Street or McCart Avenue at lunch hour and line up in a parking lot, and it turns out it’s just a survey, that’s more than an inconvenience.

“When a federal agency wants you to go into a parking lot and line up for a cheek swab or a Breathalyzer, that sure doesn’t feel very voluntary,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.

He looked into the checkpoints after a KXAS/Channel 5 report. The North Beach Street checkpoint near Western Center Boulevard mentioned in the TV report is in his district.

“I’m very uneasy about it,” Krause said. “It gives you cause for concern.”

According to a recent CNN report, surveys are being conducted in 30 cities nationwide by a Maryland-based contractor as part of a regularly scheduled study for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2007 version of the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers describes how off-duty officers in Dallas and other cities were hired to direct motorists into a “research bay” of traffic cones and offered money for samples and for answering a survey of up to 75 questions.

About 1 in 6 motorists who were waved over declined to participate or did not stop.

The samples remain anonymous, according to the federal agency’s response to CNN. The $7.9 million survey takes three years to organize, compile and analyze.

The agency told CNN the survey “provides useful data about alcohol and drug use by drivers,” and asked cities and counties to help as part of “efforts to reduce drunk and drugged driving.”

When off-duty Alabama county deputies helped with the survey in June, each checkpoint was marked with a sign labeled “Paid Volunteer Survey.”

Why not just say: “We’ll Pay You If You Stop”?

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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