DALLAS -- The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has launched an inquiry into the Dallas Police Department’s training practices amid concerns that standards for training police recruits have been lowered, an agency spokeswoman said Friday.
News of the agency’s inquiry came a day after Police Chief David Brown suspended the police department’s sobriety testing training classes for police academy recruits, pending a review to ensure the department is in compliance with federal highway safety administration standards.
“We will continue to review of all of our training to ensure our high standards are not compromised in any way and that we make the necessary adjustments to continually improve,” Brown said in the statement.
Brown put the training classes on hold after Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston released an email from the commander overseeing recruit training academy stating that recruits would no longer have to pass the “practical application portion” of standardized field sobriety test training. They would only have to pass the written exam.
“The instructors are all up in arms because they are dictating how they have to train and now they’re being told by management, ‘Oh, you can’t train that way,’" Pinkston said. He compared it to requiring that drivers only having to pass a written test, but not having to actually prove to an instructor that they can drive.
In those classes, recruits are taught how to conduct three standardized field sobriety tests on suspected drunken drivers. There’s one where an officer moves a pen in front of a person’s eye to test for visible jerking of the eye, the one-legged standing test, and the walk and turn test.
“These tests are scientifically validated, but only if they are done properly, according to standards,” said Charlie Foster, a retired Addison police officer who has testified as a defense witness in hundreds of drunken driving cases. “If they’re not doing it according to the standards, it loses the validity and could very well lead to someone that is not intoxicated being arrested.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandates that in order to pass the class, officers must be able to “properly administer the complete test battery at least once, in an instructor’s presence, without deleting or erroneously performing any of the critical administrative elements of the tests.” Typically, the students in the class conduct the sobriety tests on volunteers who have had alcohol.
“These tests need to be administered properly,” Foster said. “If you have an officer who can’t do that, you need to get rid of the officer. [...] If they can’t do it in the classroom, they’re probably not going to be able to do it out on the street when they’re in a very stressful situation.”
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement requires that recruits pass that training class to be licensed as police officers.
With hundreds of police academy recruits currently in the academy, Pinkston said the department won’t be able to keep the classes suspended for long. A police spokesman said that he did not know how long the classes would be on hiatus.
The controversy over the standardized field sobriety testing class was the latest dust-up between Brown and Pinkston over the department’s recruit academy standards. Pinkston contends that police commanders are lowering standards. Brown has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Their public spat began April 10 when Pinkston sent a letter to City Manager A.C. Gonzalez stating, among other things, that that the department was “attempting to circumvent” its own rules on testing for police pursuit driving for a recruit who had repeatedly failed the test.
The department posted a statement on its blog last Friday denying Pinkston’s allegations.
A statement posted on Thursday brought up the issue of race.
It cited the fact that eight minority recruits (compared to one white recruit) had failed the sobriety testing training classes in the last five years as the reason that the department had temporarily suspended the classes. The statement also noted that only minority recruits – five recruits total – had failed the pursuit driving course in that same time span.
Pinkston said this is not a racial issue.
“If you look at attrition in the academy, the attrition is all over the place,” Pinkston said. “In defensive tactics, they fail out white females more than they do anybody else. The overall attrition rate is higher for white males than anybody in the academy.”
Brown declined a request for an interview.