Houston TX April 3 2012 More sergeants should be hired to supervise highway patrol troopers, who racked up the greatest number of disciplinary complaints in the agency last year, according to an inspector general report.
Boosting the number of sergeants would cost the Texas Department of Public Safety more money, but the hidden costs of not properly supervising patrol officers will be greater, warns agency inspector general Stuart Platt, in a report obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
“Increasing the ratio of sergeants to commissioned troopers would have a fiscal cost, but so does the failure to mentor and manage law enforcement conduct,” Platt wrote.
In 2011, highway patrol troopers were the subject of 68 percent of the 365 complaints brought against DPS personnel, according to the report. Of the 74 complaints that were sustained or led to resignations last year, 40 involved troopers, the report noted. Currently the DPS has 8,294 officers and civilians on the payroll, including 2,884 in highway patrol.
The most common infraction among all DPS employees – civilians and sworn officers – was DWI, followed by untruthfulness, assault, lack of professionalism and sexual misconduct, according to the report.
A longtime Austin civil rights attorney, while giving DPS high marks for professionalism, doubts the numbers tell the full story.
“The reasons I’m not impressed is you really don’t know what’s going on, because … people don’t file complaints because they don’t think they’ll get relief, and they don’t, ” said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.
Harrington said complaints are often under-reported and not fully investigated. “What I would like to see is how many supervisors are disciplined when the people under their command do something wrong. That’s the most effective form of discipline,” he said.
Last year, 33 DPS employees had to leave the agency for misconduct, either by being fired, resigning or retiring while under investigation. In 2010, 34 DPS employees left due to disciplinary investigations.
Database set up
The DPS Office of Inspector General was created by legislation that took effect in 2009 and 2011, and prior to that disciplinary investigations were handled by each division. The disciplinary records were maintained on index cards in each regional office. It was not until last year that an electronic database was created to maintain agencywide records.
Before the OIG law, internal investigations of DPS employees could only take place with the director’s approval.
“The key change that occurred, through legislation, is the independent Office of Inspector General provides greater assurance to the public and our employees there is a fair and objective evaluation of any issues raised about misconduct,” Platt said in a interview.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the senate committee on law enforcement, agreed the statewide police agency should be given more funding to keep pace with population growth.
“They just got to have the resources they need,” Whitmire said. “We’re gaining 1,500 citizens a day who are moving to Texas, and we for the last few (legislative) sessions continue to ask DPS to do more for less. Their mission continues to increase without a correlating increase in resources. It’s nuts.”
‘Daily heavy lifting’
Whitmire said the number of complaints against troopers “sounded low” when contrasted with their frequent contact with the public.
“It would be fair to say the daily heavy lifting is on the shoulder of the troopers,” Whitmire said. “I’m not defending any transgression that may have occurred, but they have hundreds of thousands if not in the millions of contacts with the public every year.”