DPS says the policy is meant to tackle health conditions that are prevalent in law enforcement officers, but the union says the measure is discriminatory.
AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new addition to the agency’s fitness assessments that requires officers to have their waistlines measured.
The lawsuit filed in Travis County court says the waistline requirement implemented last year — 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women — is discriminatory because troopers who do not meet the standards face termination, transfer or demotion, even if they pass all other required parts of the agency’s physical fitness test. The officers could also lose out on overtime pay or the ability to work off-duty jobs if they do not meet the physical requirement.
A 6-2, 230-pound male trooper who has a 41-inch waist because of his “large build” could be removed from duty because of the “shortsighted directive,” the group said in a news release.
“Not only is this policy demeaning, it is damaging to our troopers and to our citizens,” Richard Jankovsky, the president of the officer’s association said in a news release. “Not all physically fit troopers are of the same body type, the same height or the same genetic makeup.”
In spring 2019, the lawsuit says, 594 of the 1,153 commissioned officers who took the fitness test did not meet the waistline requirements. The lawsuit says DPS has continued the fitness test this fall, placing hundreds of officers at risk of repercussions if they do not meet the requirements.
Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, declined comment citing the department’s policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
The lawsuit asks the court to block the policy’s further implementation until its legality can be determined.
The officers association, which represents more than 3,400 members across Texas, alleges that the Department of Public Safety implemented the new measure without the help of an outside consultant as is required by state law. The lawsuit also says that the new waistline requirements violate state law because it bears no direct relation to whether an officer can perform their duties.
“The new standards have moved beyond testing for fitness needed to perform one’s duty as an officer into an appearance policy that has little bearing on an officer’s ability to keep Texans safe,” Jankovsky said.
The lawsuit is the latest battle between DPS Director Steve McCraw and his rank-and-file over the department’s physical fitness standards. Since 2010, the department has slowly increased its fitness standards with the goal of ensuring a physically fit and well-trained force that can respond to its law enforcement tasks.
Deputy Director Skylor Hearn said the agency enacted the waistline requirement to address health conditions like obesity and cardiovascular diseases, which were prevalent in law enforcement. The new policy would identify and support those at risk for those conditions and help the department “take proactive steps to address this health and officer safety risk.”
Officers are required to pass two physical fitness tests each fiscal year, which the department says account for age and sex.