AUSTIN, Texas — More than 200 state troopers will need to slim down by year’s end or face discipline under a controversial policy the Texas Department of Public Safety is enforcing to limit the size of officers’ waistlines.
Men with waists over 40 inches and women over 35 inches now have to track and share their weight-loss efforts with DPS, according to documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
“I will drink no more than one diet soda each day,” one officer pledged in a fitness improvement plan obtained by The News. Another set out to “drastically cut sugar intake in all its forms” and avoid fast food.
Officers who don’t trim down by December — even if they pass all other required physical fitness tests — can be denied promotions and overtime, or removed from enforcement duties.
In the latest round of testing, most officers who failed the waist measurement passed the department’s running, rowing and weight-lifting tests — suggesting that state troopers with proven strength and stamina may be discounted simply for their size.
The possibility of taking officers out of the field comes as the department is struggling with recruitment and ramping up activity at the state’s border with Mexico under Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
Department leaders insist a trim midsection is necessary for officers to have a commanding “presence” in dealings with the public. For years, they’ve been pushing to crack down on overweight troopers, citing health concerns like obesity and cardiovascular problems. But the coronavirus pandemic slowed the waistline policy’s full rollout until this year.
As of April, 213 officers — out of about 4,000 total — had failed the waistline requirement, according to the department. Only two of the 213 also failed the physical fitness test for which officers can choose between rowing tests, a combat fitness evaluation or a standard assessment that includes a mile-and-a-half run, push-ups and sit-ups.
Critics say the waist requirement is arbitrary, unfairly harsh on women and doesn’t directly relate to an officer’s job duties.
“DPS is continuing in its plan to harass, discipline, and even discharge outstanding officers for not meeting its physical fitness testing standards and appearance standards,” the Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association said in a statement.
The association sued to stop the waistline policy in 2019, but the lawsuit was dismissed as no penalties had kicked in. It’s not clear whether another challenge is in the works.
A DPS spokesperson said the state agency “continuously evaluates all programs for improvement.”
“Recommendations and potential changes will be discussed at the August 2022 (Public Safety Commission) meeting after the department has analyzed data from two complete testing cycles,” the statement said. Officers must undergo physical fitness testing in the spring and fall.
According to department policy, officers with waists over the limit can still pass using other measures based on height and weight or a percentage of body fat. It’s not clear how many did.
When officers’ waists are deemed too large, they must write and share with DPS a fitness improvement plan laying out their eating and exercise goals. Most plans call for officers to submit documentation of their efforts — and failing to follow the plan can lead to consequences. The News obtained copies of several plans from DPS through an open records request. The officers’ names are redacted, but several describe the challenges they’re trying to overcome.
One state trooper worried about inflaming old injuries sustained during his time in the military. But he pledged to document regular runs through his neighborhood with a cellphone app and track progress “by being waist measured every week.”
Another officer set out to go on regular walks and share proof that he was limiting sugar several days a week.
Officers are required to follow their plans. By Dec. 1, those who fail the waistline or physical fitness tests will no longer be eligible for promotions and could lose overtime pay or be reassigned, according to the department’s implementation schedule.