Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead held a media conference Thursday morning to vow a more efficient, strong-armed handling of any investigation that finds an officer drove drunk.
“I will not tolerate it,” he said. “If you are sustained in that allegation, you will not be working in this organization.”
In the four years since Halstead’s led the department, 14 Fort Worth police officers have been arrested on suspicion of DWI, including one who caused a crash that killed 27-year-old mother Sonia Baker in 2009. That case still looms over the department –– as Halstead spoke, Baker’s mother Stella Lopez stood behind him, joined by the wife of fallen officer Dwayne Freeto, who was killed by a drunken driver in 2006.
The news conference comes a day after yet another DWI accusation against one of Halstead's own.
Before the sun rose Wednesday, Nicolas Ramirez, a four-year veteran officer who was assigned to the DWI task force, was arrested in Keller on suspicion of DWI. Responding officers say they saw his SUV weave out of its lane in the 1700 block of Highway 114 and onto the shoulder. They’d later find his blood alcohol content to be more than twice the legal limit of .08.
And then, just under a month ago, Maj. Paul Henderson was demoted following his Dec. 4 arrest in Parker County for DWI. Henderson was Halstead’s chief of staff, in charge of the internal affairs division that is now piecing together the accusations against him.
Halstead said he hasn't been able to find a causation trend between any of these internal incidents.
“We are struggling to figure out the ‘why,’ because there is no common cause in any of these cases,” Halstead said, adding that the department’s legal issues with alcohol are the most frustrating obstacle he’s faced in his 22-year career.
The arrests have spurred reform inside the department –– the chief has launched mandatory alcohol awareness training for all officers. Fort Worth police can speak with confidential support groups and police chaplains should there be any personal issues going on in their lives.
“We wanted more support services on the front end and not on the reactive end,” he said.
But should they find themselves facing an alcohol-related offense, they know they face a punishment ranging from suspension to termination.
But Halstead said that isn’t enough.
The chief said he met with the captain of the special investigations unit to discuss the issue. Now, instead of waiting on a verdict ruled inside a criminal courtroom, Halstead said he would make a decision based on the findings of the department’s internal investigation. If they're found to have driven drunk, Halstead said they will be immediately fired.
“I didn’t like having to wait for a criminal case to be concluded; I’m not going to wait any longer,” Halstead said. “My message is very, very strong to every person in this organization, sworn or civilian: You cannot drink and drive any longer unless you want to throw your career down the drain.”
Halstead said he would review past cases involving officers on the force who have had alcohol related arrests in the past. All future cases will be subject to the chief’s “realigned approach of severity.”