Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger.
A state law enforcement officers association Tuesday accused Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw of disrespecting Texas peace officers for recently stating that officers should accept being spit on by members of the public.
When asked about the arrest of Sandra Bland and escalations with law enforcement at a Texas Tribune event last week, McCraw said officers dealing with various unruly behavior including being spit at should "just take it" and respond professionally.
In a post titled, "DPS chief got it wrong – it's never OK to spit on cops," the president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said spitting on an officer is a third-degree felony, a health concern and undignified.
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“Texas law enforcement officers have taken enough already,” association President Todd Harrison said. “Whether it’s an officer’s physical safety, his or her legal authority to act or their right to a decent retirement when their tour of duty comes to an end, they can count on CLEAT to take their side.”
DPS Trooper Brian Encinia stopped Bland near the Prairie View A&M University campus on July 10 for failing to signal a lane change. The two argued over the stop and her smoking a cigarette before she was pulled out of her car and arrested for allegedly assaulting a public servant. Three days later, she was found hanged in her Waller County jail cell. Her death was ruled a suicide. The stop and her death created a national firestorm.
Smith had asked McCraw if Bland was at all to blame for the escalation in her traffic stop.
“It’s always on the trooper,” McCraw told Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in Chief Evan Smith. "We’re accountable for every stop. And the citizen has a right to be objectionable — they can be rude. They can do a lot of things. They can say things, they can do things, and at the end of the day, we have an obligation not to react and be pulled into that. We’ve got to be professional, above that. ... And that’s important for a trooper. You don’t get pulled into this. And I, you know — anybody that’s been spit at, you know, again, you just take it. That’s a part of being a professional."
McCraw's response was appropriate, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told The Texas Tribune in an email.
"His point was that even in adverse circumstances troopers should exercise restraint and respond only with appropriate enforcement action — which would include arresting someone who is breaking the law," Vinger said.