AUSTIN, Texas — More than 200 state police officers must lose weight or face disciplinary action by the end of the year under a controversial policy the Texas Department of Public Safety is enforcing to limit officers’ waist size.
Men with waists over 40 inches and women over 35 inches must now track and share their weight-loss efforts with DPS, according to documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
“I’m not going to drink more than one diet soda a day,” promised an official in a fitness-improvement plan obtained by The News. Another wanted to “drastically reduce sugar consumption in all its forms” and avoid fast food.
Officers who don’t downsize by December — even if they pass all other required physical fitness tests — may 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 weightlifting tests – suggesting that state police officers with proven strength and endurance can be discounted simply because of their size.
The opportunity to take officers out of the field comes as the department struggles with recruiting and ramping up activities at the state border with Mexico under Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
Department heads insist that a slim midsection is necessary for officers to have a confident “presence” when dealing with the public. For years they have been pushing for action to be taken against overweight soldiers, citing health concerns such as obesity and cardiovascular problems. But the coronavirus pandemic slowed full adoption of the waistline policy until this year.
As of April, 213 officers – out of a total of about 4,000 – had not met the waist requirement, according to the department. Only two of the 213 also failed the physical fitness test, which gives officers a choice of rowing tests, a combat fitness rating, or a standard rating that includes a mile-and-a-half run, push-ups and sit-ups.
Critics say the waist duty is arbitrary, unfairly harsh on women, and does not relate directly to an officer’s work duties.
“DPS continues its plan to harass, discipline and even fire outstanding officers for failing to meet their physical fitness testing and appearance standards,” the Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association said in a statement.
The federation sued in 2019 to stop the waistline policy, but the lawsuit was dismissed as no penalties had taken effect. It’s not clear if another lawsuit is in the works.
A DPS spokesman said the state agency “continuously evaluates all programs for improvement.”
“Recommendations and potential changes will be discussed at the Public Safety Commission meeting in August 2022, after the department has analyzed data from two full test cycles,” the statement said. The officers must undergo a fitness test in spring and autumn.
Per department policy, officers with waists over the limit can still pass other measures based on height and weight or a percentage of body fat. It is not clear how many did.
If officers’ waists are deemed too large, they must create and notify the DPS of a fitness improvement plan outlining their eating and exercise goals. Most plans require officers to provide documentation of their efforts — and failure to follow the plan can result in consequences. The news obtained copies of several plans from DPS through an open file request. Officials’ names are redacted, but some describe the challenges they are trying to overcome.
A state trooper worried about old injuries he had sustained while serving in the military. But he vowed to document regular runs around his neighborhood with a cell phone app and track progress “by measuring his waist each week.”
Another officer set out to take regular walks and provide evidence that he restricted sugar several days a week.
Officials must follow their plans. By December 1, those who fail waistline or physical fitness tests will be ineligible for promotion and could lose overtime pay or be reassigned under the department’s implementation plan.