Fort Worth police mark sobering milestone

06/26/2014 2:04 PM

06/26/2014 2:06 PM

Many companies keep a tally board showing the number of days since their last work-related accident.

Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead tweaked that idea a bit.

Just outside his office door on the second floor of police headquarters, Fort Worth’s top cop has been using a whiteboard to keep track of the number of days that have passed since a Fort Worth police officer has been arrested for driving while intoxicated.

On Thursday, an admittedly “relieved” Halstead reached his 1-year goal, proudly writing “365!” on the board.

Jeff Miracle, executive director of the North Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, applauded the department on its achievement.

“When they did a press conference to say that they were implementing new things to make sure this activity wasn’t accepted and didn’t continue, we were glad to hear it,” Miracle said. “We have a great working relationship with the Fort Worth Police Department. … We hope they continue this path. … We, of course, suggest any business working with their staff to make sure they’re not drinking and driving.”

Halstead started the tally board on the first day of 2013, after announcing to officers his goal of the department being “DWI Free in 1-3.”

Since 2008, more than a dozen DWI arrests of officers had rocked the department, already prompting Halstead to implement mandatory alcohol awareness training and expand peer and mentoring programs. One former officer, Jesus Cisneros, is now serving a 20-year sentence for intoxication manslaughter after slamming his city-owned SUV into another car while off-duty, killing Sonia Baker, a young mother of two children.

“The whole year of 2013, we wanted to be free of a DWI,” Halstead said. “I talked about the board and the fact I was going to start monitoring this like other major industries did with work-related injuries because this is serious, it was damaging our reputation, our image and hurting our public trust.”

But on Jan. 2, one day announcing his goal, the chief had to reset the tally to “0” after the drunken-driving arrest of Fort Worth DWI enforcement officer Nicolas Ramirez in Westlake.

Ramirez, whose charge of DWI with a blood alcohol level over 0.15 is still pending, was later fired by the department.

“We only made it TWO days in 2013 before this occurred and many of you have stated how disappointing this was,” Halstead wrote in an email to the department. “I agree this kind of behavior has to stop … we cannot tolerate it and I will not accept it.”

Zero-tolerance policy

Halstead quickly instituted a zero-tolerance policy, announcing that any officer whose DWI accusation is “sustained” by internal affairs will be quickly fired, even before the case goes to trial.

“The taxpayers should not fund your salary while you wait to be tried for a crime that really is senseless,” Halstead said.

The tally number would climb, once reaching around 100 days before going back to “0” after another arrest, Halstead said.

Halstead said he and administrators kept pushing the message department-wide, including addressing it with every class of recruits.

“It is a non-stop messaging center that they have to understand that this behavior can never be tolerated again,” Halstead said.

June 2013 proved an especially troubling month with the arrests of three officers, including one for boating while intoxicated.

The last arrest to date came on June 26, 2013, when officer Brian Blue, who had allegedly been under the influence of prescription drugs, crashed into another vehicle.

Although the criminal case is still pending, the police department fired Blue in September. Since his firing, Tarrant County court records show he was charged in April with a second DWI, which also remains pending.

“The month of June [2013] was a horrible month for us,” Halstead said. “I refused to stop at that and we drove the message even stronger.”

‘One thousand days’

Halstead said he sees hitting the one-year mark since the last officer DWI arrest as proof the department’s efforts to address the problem are working.

He credits a combination of the training and programs put in place, a shift in the police culture, along with the department’s move in the last couple of years to encourage more two-person patrol teams.

Halstead said he began buying Chevrolet Tahoes a couple years ago so that officers, at the discretion of their lieutenants or sergeants, could begin riding with partners. Today, the department has 70 Tahoes on the streets.

“I wanted them to have a partner,” Halstead said. “With a partner, they talk, they socialize, they vent about calls, which helps them decompress faster before they go home and maybe get involved in some not so beneficial activities like drinking.”

The tally board, Halstead said, will remain in place.

“One thousand days,” he said. “That’s my new goal.”

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