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AFTERWORD Feeling Sorry at the D.P.S. BY LUCIUS LOMAX When the Texas Department of Public Safety decides to fire a state trooper, the condemned officer has a right of final appeal to the three-member Public Safety Commission, appointed by the Governor, which oversees the Department. There’s a hearing in Austin, with evidence presented and witnesses called, concluded by the commission’s vote to uphold or overrule the decision to terminate. In late September, the Public Safety Commission fulfilled its duty and sat in judgment of the evidence against Trooper Kevin Hodge. In the Highway Patrol academy, Hodge’ s average grade was 93. He was so admired by his fellow cadets, he was elected class chaplain. But during his first year of service, he committed an offense which the Department has concluded is inexcusable: he tore up three citations, written by another officer, against crying young women. There is no evidence that Hodge destroyed the tickets for any reason other than sympathy. But for his overzealous action, which he admits, the Department wanted his badge, his gun, and his ass. At first glance, tearing up an already-issued traffic citation might seem like a good reason for a trooper’s termination. The abundant evidence at Hodge’s hearing, however, contradicted that impression. Ticket-tearing is apparently an accepted practice in the D.P.S. depending, of course, on who’s doing the tearing. The procedure goes something like this: “You get a phone call that you wrote the wrong person a ticket,” testified one trooper. “The word is, ‘Can you help me?’ Rather than asking, ‘Can you dismiss the ticket?,’ they’ll ask, ‘Can you help me?'” In his own defense, Hodge testified that at first, because the practice was so widespread among his peers, he did not believe he had done anything wrong in destroying the three citations. Previously, for example, he had destroyed a ticket at the request of another trooper \(a citation that Hodge had written against the father of a local policea telephone call from a D.P.S. criminal investigator with a similar request. But the department says what is different in this case, is that Hodge tore up another trooper’s tickets in fact, those written by his partner and training officer, with whom he was riding on the day in question. The three citations, written during three different stops on the same day, were for violations that included speeding, a broken headlight, and failure to wear a seatbelt. The three apprehended drivers were weeping, and apparently the show of emotion touched the young officer. At the station later in the afternoon, Hodge pulled the tickets from a box holding the day’s citations awaiting computer entry, and disposed of them. “I didn’t think it was that serious at the time,” he told the disciplinary hearing. When first questioned by his superiors, Hodge was evasive, and later realized his mistake. “I admit what I did was wrong, and I deserve some kind of punishment for it,” he says. “I just don’t believe I deserve the death penalty.” His supervisors do not agree. His sergeant labeled Hodge a “marginal employee.” Higher up the chain of command, Hodge’s personality became an issue. “I’ve noticed this tendency [in Hodge] to feel sorry for people,” his captain says. “I’ve noticed that he’s a very friendly per son. I wonder sometimes if he’s in the right profession.” Even given the sometimes puritanical . standards of the D.P.S., Kevin Hodge has been pursued with extraordinary zeal. The Department attempted unsuccessfully to have him charged \(apparently with “deMontgomery County prosecutors, where he was stationed and where the ticket-tearing occurred. Yet inexplicably, Hodge’s sergeant continued to give the trooper satisfactory evaluations and kept him on the road, often working alone while at the same time attempting to have him arrested and fired. Indeed, the Hodge case illustrates a major problem in the Department: its investigation of misconduct by its own officers has been, it appears, more than a little contradictory and misguided. The D.P.S. \(which includes the Rangers and the Highway Patrol, “intelligence” officers, and asicized by both the state auditor and the Legislature for having a faulty internal affairs mechanism. \(A federal appeals court will soon rule on a lawsuit brought against the Department by the former chief of the Texas Rangers, fired by the D.P.S. for spending too much time socializing with legislators. The Ranger captain had also been accused by his superiors of the sin of praising a Democratic plan for fighting welMany of the complaints for which troopers have been disciplined are, of course, valid. Transporting drugs across the Mexican border in a highway patrol car should be grounds for dismissal. Ditto for aggravated assault and burglary. Having sex in the back seat of a patrol car is a malfeasance of duty. Driving a state vehicle to a NOVEMBER 26, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 u.