Tablet Local

Fort Worth police chief apologizes for officers’ participation in highway safety survey

Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead apologized Wednesday for the participation of off-duty officers in a federal highway safety survey last week that led to complaints from motorists who believed they were being compelled to pull over to give breath samples, saliva swabs or blood draws.

The National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers was conducted Friday morning on North Beach Street near Western Center Boulevard.

Uniformed but off-duty Fort Worth officers directed randomly selected motorists into a parking lot where people in lab coats asked for samples that would be used to help determine the prevalence of alcohol and drug use by drivers.

According to protocols provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency conducting the survey, motorists were informed that the survey was voluntary and that they would be paid to participate.

But some people objected.

“I can see a [DWI] check or a random stop for insurance/registration,” said an email writer to the Star-Telegram. “But to stop drivers for no apparent reason other than to complete a survey seems excessive.”

Halstead’s statement confirmed that off-duty officers participated and he acknowledged that the survey caused public “frustration.”

“I agree with our citizens concerns and I apologize for our participation,” Halstead stated. “Any future Federal survey of this nature, which jeopardizes the public’s trust, will not be approved for the use of Fort Worth police.”

Fort Worth police officers are allowed to work off-duty jobs in uniform if they adhere to rules set out in the department’s “general orders.” Police administrators are reviewing whether the rules were followed when officers were approved to work off-duty on the survey, Halstead said.

The review is important, he said, “not only to ensure that our policies and procedures were followed, but also to ensure that any off-duty job is in the absolute best interest of our citizens.”

The NHTSA, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, on Wednesday issued a statement declaring that the survey has been conducted four times since the early 1970s at about 10-year intervals, the most recent being 2007.

“Each year, close to 10,000 people die in drunk driving crashes,” according to the statement. “Findings from this survey will be used to maximize the impact of policy development, education campaigns, law enforcement efforts and other activities aimed at reducing this problem.”

In 2007, the agency “recruited” more than 9,000 drivers in various cities, including Dallas, to participate in the survey, according to information from the agency. The 2007 survey methodology is described in a 196-page report.

For example “a law enforcement officer directed a randomly selected driver into the research site,” according to the report. From there, the drivers were directed to one of five “research bays,” marked by orange traffic cones, where consent to participate was requested. The breath samples, saliva swabs and blood draws followed. Those who agreed were paid $10-$50.

The Star-Telegram submitted questions to Fort Worth police that included asking how officers conducted themselves, how they chose which cars to pull over and what happened if a driver ignored the officers. Also, what happened if drugs or open containers of alcohol were seen in the vehicle?

The questions are “under review,” a police spokesman replied.

Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy contributed to this report.