Police Chief Apologizes for Roadblocks That Asked for Saliva, Blood

Officers stopped innocent drivers for federal drunken-driving survey

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Fort Worth chief of police personally apologized on Wednesday after revelations that his officers set up roadblocks for a federal drunken-driving survey in which innocent drivers were stopped and asked for samples of their breath, saliva and blood. (Published Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013)

    The Fort Worth chief of police personally apologized on Wednesday after revelations that his officers set up roadblocks for a federal drunken-driving survey in which innocent drivers were stopped and asked for samples of their breath, saliva and blood.

    "We realize this survey caused many of our citizens frustration," Chief Jeffrey Halstead said in a post on the department's Facebook page. "I agree with our citizens' concerns, and I apologize for our participation. Any future federal survey of this nature, which jeopardizes the public's trust, will not be approved."

    Halstead declined to be interviewed.

    NBC DFW reported on Monday that a police roadblock was set up on North Beach Street at about noon on Friday. The story almost instantly drew a public outcry with more than 1,000 comments, most of them blasting police and the survey.

    Since then, other drivers have said they were stopped at a similar roadblock on South McCart Avenue near Altamesa Boulevard at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

    "When I first pulled up, I thought, 'Oh, it's a field sobriety check," Carl Olund said. "Hey, I see cop cars and they tell me to pull in a parking lot, I'm going to follow directions."

    Drunken-driving checkpoints are illegal in Texas.

    Olund said he felt pressured to give breath and saliva samples to federal workers -- largely because of the police presence -- even though he later learned the survey was supposed to be voluntary.

    "At least tell me, 'Hey, it's voluntary. If you want to leave, you're more than welcome to leave,'" he said. "But she was like up in my window to where I was like, 'OK, I might as well just stay.' I mean, the cops are around, so if I take off, I'm not going to have four or five cops chasing me."

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is paying for the $7.9 million survey.

    In an email to NBC DFW on Wednesday, the NHTSA said: "Impaired driving accounts for thousands of deaths per year and 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."

    The agency also noted that Texas had the biggest increase in drunken-driving deaths in a recent survey.

    A spokeswoman insisted participation in the roadside survey is anonymous, completely voluntary and has been conducted for years without any issues.

    Olund said he never knew it was an option and added that he was surprised when a contractor paid him $10 for blowing into a Breathalyzer and swabbing his cheek.

    "She never said it was voluntary," he said. "If she would have said it was voluntary, I'd be like, 'OK, can I go?'"

    Fort Worth police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Peel said the officers were working off-duty and were paid with federal money. He declined to give specifics about how many roadblocks were conducted or how many officers were involved. He said an internal review by supervisors in the traffic division was underway.