AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Public Safety Commission made changes Thursday to the Department of Public Safety’s physical fitness policies by relaxing, but not eliminating, controversial “command presence” rules that set limits on troopers’ waist sizes, according to an approved resolution.
Richard Jankovsky, president of the Department of Public Safety Officers Association, spoke out against the command presence rules Thursday. He said the policies have become a source of “frustration” and “stress” for commissioned employees. While speaking to the commission, he referenced a Dallas Morning News report from April that found over 200 commissioned DPS employees had passed their physical fitness test but faced potential disciplinary actions because their waists were too large.
The command presence rules said men’s waists must be under 40 inches and women’s under 35, according to the policy.
“DPSOA maintains that if an officer is passing the physical fitness test, their waist size should be irrelevant. Therefore, we are asking the commission to eliminate command presence policy,” Jankovsky said. “Is a policy that removes law enforcement officers from an enforcement role for no reason other than the way they look good for Texas or good for Texans?”
Before the policy changes Thursday, those who failed to meet command presence standards would be placed on a fitness plan and could face other consequences, including loss of promotion eligibility, being prohibited from wearing a DPS uniform at secondary employment, removal from enforcement role and loss of overtime, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Changes to policy
The Commission approved three modifications to its policies including a 2% allowance on all command presence standards, including measurements, according to the Commission.
The rules were also amended to ensure failures to meet the command presence standards alone would not bar an employee from promotions or secondary employment and would not result in reassignment to non-law enforcement duties or loss of overtime opportunities, according to Freeman Martin, DPS deputy director of homeland security operations.
The Public Safety Commission is a governor-appointed board that oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety and state troopers. The current physical fitness policies arose from Senate Bill 616 passed in 2019. That expansive law was based on Sunset Advisory Commission recommendations for improving DPS. The bill included a provision requiring DPS to adopt a physical fitness program that would be consistent with certain state statutes and “accepted scientific standards and meet all applicable requirements of state and federal labor and employment law,” according to the bill.
Later in 2019, the Public Safety Commission passed a resolution outlining its “health, physical fitness and command presence policy.
“The objective of the program is to support and assist officers in maintaining a high degree of physical conditioning and good health by providing a periodic evaluation and assessment,” according to the policy. “Command presence – maintaining a high degree of physical conditioning and professional appearance – is a critical component of officer safety. More importantly, officers have a responsibility to their families when it comes to day-to-day safety and longevity.”
DPS has rolled out the new command presence policy, gathering data over two years to gauge improvements in physical fitness among DPS troopers.
DPS Program Supervisor Michael Harper said the program has ben successful, and there was a 99.6% compliance rate in the past spring. Harper said individuals can get a waiver for fitness testing if they have medical issues such pregnancy, medical concerns such as surgeries, or if they have a military deployment. He said 1.8% of the agency received a waiver.
Martin said a person is considered “in compliance” with DPS fitness policies if they have a waiver.