Officers and support staff who drive drunk face dismissal in a stricter DWI policy applying to those who enforce the law, Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said.
Acevedo announced the updated policy to the department's 2,300 sworn law enforcement personnel in a video message Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The zero tolerance policy applies regardless of whether criminal charges are dismissed.
Effective immediately, if an internal police administrative investigation finds that an officer or civilian employee drove drunk, he or she will automatically be fired. Previously, the Austin police chief had discretion on whether to fire officers for a DWI arrest.
"This stance that we're taking is about saving lives, it's about saving careers and at the end of the day it's about ensuring that we are all doing everything we can to not bring heartache to our own families," Acevedo said. He urged police department personnel who have drinking problems to get professional help.
Ken Casaday, the secretary of the Austin Police Association, which opposes the policy change, said Wednesday that there are extenuating circumstances to every case.
"There have been cases where an officer was arrested, and it was later proven that the officer was not intoxicated at the time, so we just feel like it needs to be a case-by-case, not a blanket policy," Casaday said.
Of the seven law enforcement agencies in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties that responded to the Statesman's request for information, none said evidence showing an officer drove drunk would lead to an automatic termination.
In San Marcos, officers are temporarily suspended while their criminal charge works its way through the legal system, and they're fired if they're convicted, said Chief Howard Williams. But absent a conviction, the appropriate discipline is at the chief's discretion, he said.
Officials with the sheriff's offices in Travis and Williamson counties and police departments in Round Rock, Georgetown, Pflugerville and Buda similarly said that whether to fire an officer accused of driving while intoxicated is up to the sheriff or police chief.