Ft. Worth Police Department Offers *Real* Apology For Its Assistance In The NHTSA's Blood/Saliva Sampling 'Survey'
from the more-than-I-expected dept
As we noted last week, the Fort Worth Police Dept. found itself on the receiving end of lots of criticism for its participation in a "voluntary" collection of blood and saliva samples for the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
For one thing, having a squad of police officers flag you down and route you into a nearby parking space never feels "voluntary," no matter how easy it is to opt out once you're pulled over. For another, the paperwork signed by "volunteers" contained fine print that indicated consent had been assumed for the PD to "collect" information on the driver's state of intoxication with passive alcohol sensors.
After a local news report detailed the concerns of one citizen who consented to a breathalyzer (the NHTSA paid $50 for blood and $10 for saliva -- there was no compensation for submitting to a breathalyzer) because she felt it was the quickest way out of the "voluntary" collection, the Ft. Worth PD issued the following non-apology.
We apologize if any of our drivers and citizens were offended or inconvenienced by the NHTSA National Roadside Survey.As I noted then, this apology was less than useless. This "apology" lays the blame at the feet of those who "felt" offended or inconvenienced by the voluntary-in-all-but-appearance sample collection. I suggested a more contrite apology that put the blame where it was due.
We apologize for the offensive and inconvenient "survey" we participated in.I'm not suggesting the Fort Worth police chief reads Techdirt but here's the much better apology it issued via its Facebook page.
TO OUR CITIZENS:While it's too bad this moment of clarity didn't strike before the PD assisted the NHTSA in its voluntary DNA draws (which the agency claims is anonymized and yet volunteers had to sign a participation form?), it is good to see that it realizes how involuntary this looked to drivers who were flagged down by the assisting officers. It's also good to see the FWPD will steer clear of these questionable ventures in the future. Hopefully, this will also clue the PD in on how the imbalance of power between law enforcement and citizens often makes voluntary actions seem like anything but.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hired off-duty Fort Worth Police officers to assist with the Roadside Survey by providing traffic safety and security of cash used to pay survey participants. This survey was intended to be voluntary and was conducted by NHTSA personnel.
We are reviewing the approval process for this survey’s utilization of FWPD off-duty officers not only to ensure that our policies and procedures were followed, but also to ensure that any off-duty job is in the absolute best interest of our citizens.
We realize this survey caused many of our citizens frustration and we apologize for our participation.
“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 for the use of Fort Worth police.”
Chief Jeffrey Halstead
*** Please express your concern with this survey to the media relations office with the USDOT NHTSA - Kathryn Henry 202-366-6918; firstname.lastname@example.org
"Jeopardizing the public trust" is never smart, especially when the success of your work depends heavily on being perceived as trustworthy by the public. And trust isn't something that's easily earned back, not when the public perception of law enforcement as the "good guys" is steadily trending downwards.
Also of note: Chief Halstead may want to be careful about whose contact information he posts publicly. The NHTSA contact info may be publicly available but encouraging citizens to contact media relations representatives has been found to be an arrestable offense in other jurisdictions.