Fort Worth Mayor Critical of Police Roadblocks for Survey Asking for Saliva, Blood

Amid backlash, police won't release basic details

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price says police never should have set up controversial roadblocks that forced drivers into parking lots as part of a federal survey on impaired driving.

    The mayor of Fort Worth says police never should have set up controversial roadblocks that forced drivers into parking lots as part of a federal survey on impaired driving.

    "We don't want our officers involved in things like this because, when they're out there, we want the citizens to be comfortable stopping and responding to them," Mayor Betsy Price said during a City Hall interview Thursday. "I'm not sure this drove that."

    Uniformed off-duty officers on Friday set up at least two roadblocks in which drivers were directed into parking lots where researchers for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked for samples of breath, saliva and blood.

    The NHTSA said the survey was voluntary and anonymous and aimed at gathering data on drunken and drug-impaired driving. But some of those who were stopped said they didn't realize they had a choice.

    "We're sorry if our citizens were inconvenienced and surprised, and we never want that to be the case for our citizens," Price said.

    Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead issued an apology on Facebook on Wednesday but has declined repeated requests for an interview.

    It took the department a full day to acknowledge its officers were involved.

    Spokesman Sgt. Kelly Peel on Thursday would not answer basic questions about the operation, including how many roadblocks were set up or how many officers were involved.

    He said earlier that it was difficult to confirm that officers were involved because they were working off-duty and paid with federal money.

    Citizens reported at least two roadblocks on Friday -- the first at about noon on North Beech Street and another late that night on South McCart Avenue.

    Price said she and other city officials were caught off-guard by the news and said approval for such a controversial operation should have gone to the City Council.

    "It kind of surprised me, and it surprised me that our officers were doing it," she said. "It surprised the chief, too. The chief has briefed us and he said, yes, he was a bit surprised about it, too."

    The department is conducting a review into what happened and into the procedures for approving officers' off-duty work requests.

    The work was approved by a lower-level supervisor on short notice, and the request never reached top police commanders, the mayor said.