Art Acevedo
Chief of Police
Houston Police Department

As the fourth largest city in the United States – and soon to be the third largest – Houston has always had a serious issue with impaired driving. In fact, Houston has consistently been at the top of the list year-after-year when it comes to DWI-related fatal crashes. The Houston Police Department (HPD) has made a conscious effort to bring down the number of DWI-related fatal crashes, and over the last 18 months have made many changes to become better as a department at recognizing and arresting those impaired drivers. This has not been an easy process, and was met with some resistance; however, the results have been better than we could have hoped for when we started.

Since 2005, all new HPD officers have come out of the police academy with the requisite training to conduct the Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), but we found that their training was not being used properly and we knew that we needed fundamental changes to the program.

Accordingly, the first step in the process was to conduct a DWI overview class for all 5,300 HPD officers. This was completed as part of our annual in-service training classes as a four-hour block of training. The next step in the process was our Field Training Instructors or FTIs. We knew that many FTIs were not comfortable with the DWI process, which also led to the FTIs avoiding DWI arrests with their probationary officers. If the new officers were not exposed to DWIs while training, then the chances of them wanting to process DWIs after training were also not good.

Starting in late 2018, every FTI in the department went through an 8-hour SFST update class to help them become more proficient with the tests. Once the trainers were up to speed, we mandated that each probationary officer would have to complete five (5) DWI investigations prior to completing the field training program. The result of this has been hundreds of new officers that are not afraid of the DWI cases, and many new officers that have made it a point to be on the lookout for DWI’s after they complete training. The next change came for our DWI Task Force.

Over the years, the 25-person DWI Task Force of HPD had become a purely reactive unit that mostly assisted patrol units with DWIs or worked DWIs as a result of crashes, instead of being proactive and actively looking for the DWI’s before crashes happen. In January 2019, the HPD DWI Task Force stopped taking cases from patrol – exceptions being those cases that involved serious bodily injury and fatal crashes wherein conducting Drug Influence Evaluations were needed.

Given the background above, the results of all of this additional training provided a substantial increase in our DWI-related arrests. In 2018, HPD made 5,150 DWI arrests, which had been a slight increase over 2017. In 2019, HPD made 8,675 arrests, which is the most in the history of our department, and a 68% increase. While HPD has made great strides, we are not done with improving our response and actions to this deadly and devastating crime.

Earlier this year, HPD was the first law enforcement agency in the State of Texas to teach the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) course in-house. As such, the Houston Police Department will continue to provide training for our officers, and with an increase in drugged driving cases, ARIDE will be a vitally important tool for our patrol officers in the future.

When I began my law enforcement career in 1986 as a young California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer in East Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for me to witness, first-hand, the life-changing and deadly consequences of a DWI. As the number of deadly scenes I had to visit mounted quickly, my resolve was to do everything I could possibly do to protect my first responder family and the community from the scourge of DWI. I sought advanced training, including Advanced Drug Recognition Expert Certification, and became one of the inaugural members of the CHP Southern Division Impaired Driver Task Force (IDTF). Due to the diligence of the IDTF team, we were able to significantly reduce both the number of DWI crashes and the mileage death rate in our jurisdiction.

It is now 34 years later and I am proud of being part of a profession and an HPD family that saves lives each and every day with our tireless pursuit of those who selfishly place us all at risk by committing the crime of DWI. I am also grateful for the amazing body of work and the positive impact that Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD has had in our fight to combat these dreadful crimes. For nearly 40 years, MADD has stood strong, side-by-side, with the men and women of law enforcement and have helped us save lives. So here’s to the men and women in blue, and our MADD partners. See you all out on the road as we continue on our journey to a world with zero traffic deaths stemming from DWI.

Please be safe and holler if HPD can be of assistance!