Lawmakers sign off on law enforcement reforms
Lawmakers took important steps this legislative session toward improving public confidence in law enforcement with the passage of a package of reforms aimed at increasing transparency and accountability at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the state agency responsible for licensing and certifying the nearly 115,000 peace officers, county jailers, telecommunicators and school marshals statewide.
Senate Bill 1445, authored by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney and sponsored in the House by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, is the session’s Sunset legislation on TCOLE and extends the statutory authority for the agency another eight years until 2031.
The legislation has passed both chambers of the Legislature and has been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his consideration.
Building off a failed attempt to pass Sunset legislation two years ago, SB 1445 represents an attempt to make comprehensive reforms at a state agency whose approach to regulating law enforcement was “toothless,” “fundamentally broken,” and “largely ineffective,” according to findings in the legislative interim by staff at the Sunset Advisory Commission.
“By implementing a new misconduct reporting system, requiring a new licensing status database and removing the problematic ‘discharge’ separation categories on the F-5, the current TCOLE sunset legislation is leaps and bounds above what legislators considered two years ago,” said Texas 2036 Policy Advisor Luis Soberon.
“It represents a marked improvement as well over what was introduced at the start of this legislative session, thanks to the active involvement of bill authors, stakeholders and state leadership. SB 1445 makes excellent progress toward building the public’s confidence in law enforcement and establishing a regulatory structure rooted in good data, transparency and accountability. Texans, and the men and women of law enforcement who serve them, deserve nothing less than that.”
What’s in SB 1445: A rundown
Major reforms that would be enacted by SB 1445 include the following:
- Misconduct reporting & personnel files: The bill defines misconduct for law enforcement professionals, and it requires local agencies to adopt a model policy on how misconduct is investigated. Misconduct would be reported to TCOLE and made available to law enforcement agencies who might consider hiring a licensee that’s the subject of the report. The bill also standardizes the personnel file that hiring agencies are required to check, and creates a new “licensing status database” as a repository of all officer personnel files.
- Fit for Duty Exams & Emergency License Suspension: The bill requires policies to ensure that officers are “fit for duty” based on medical and psychological exams. It separately gives TCOLE explicit authority to temporarily suspend a peace officer’s license if they are determined to be an imminent threat to the public health, safety or welfare.
- Public facing database: The bill requires TCOLE to develop a public-facing database where members of the public can view officers’ basic information, such as their licensing status, current employing agency and their completion of basic training requirements. The database allows agencies and officers to request exclusion from the database if they are engaged in sensitive law enforcement operations.
- Checking national resources: SB 1445 would require TCOLE and hiring law enforcement agencies to make a check to ensure that out-of-state officers who come to Texas have had a thorough review of their employment and licensing history in other states. The goal of these checks is to ensure that law enforcement agencies in Texas do not hire officers from other states who left their previous posts under questionable circumstances.
How we got here
Following the failure of the Sunset legislation two years ago, Texas 2036 undertook a data-driven approach to address issues at TCOLE. That effort culminated in our Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape, which was issued last fall ahead of the release of the Sunset Commission’s second TCOLE review.
Ultimately, findings from the Texas 2036 data landscape helped inform the policy discussions that shaped SB 1445 as it moved through the legislative process.
In addition to the TCOLE Sunset efforts, the Legislature also passed SB 267 by Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. This bill will require hundreds of law enforcement agencies to obtain an accreditation from a recognized accrediting body, ensuring adequate policies and procedures covering issues like use of force and personnel matters. The bill also provides for a grant program to help with the costs of obtaining accreditation.
This requirement will apply to law enforcement agencies with 20 or more peace officers, as well as school districts’ police departments. SB 267 awaits the Governor’s signature.
Texas 2036 will continue to monitor the implementation of this landmark legislation to ensure the public’s continued confidence in Texas’ law enforcement agencies and the men and women who work there.
For Texas to be the best place to live and work, public safety, which is predicated on trust in law enforcement, is critical. SB 1445 seizes the opportunity to strengthen the profession and better protect all Texans.
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