Making gains on law enforcement oversight reforms

Regulation of law enforcement in Texas made an important step forward this year from being “toothless,” according to one account, to one that meets Texans’ needs for better data and accountability at law enforcement agencies across the state.

A series of reforms aimed at improving processes 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, aims to boost transparency and build public confidence in law enforcement.

Two lawmakers, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, led reform efforts this legislative session, successfully steering a reform package through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk, where it awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

Toothless and largely ineffective

Building off a failed attempt at passing a similar, watered-down package two years ago, the Legislature tried again this year to make comprehensive reforms at a state agency whose approach to regulating law enforcement was “toothless,” “fundamentally broken,” and “largely ineffective,” according to findings last year by staff at the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Texas 2036, meanwhile, helped support those efforts by undertaking a data-driven approach to addressing issues at TCOLE. That work culminated in our Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape, which was issued late last year. Findings and recommendations from the Texas 2036 report helped inform the policy discussions on the TCOLE reform package as it moved through the legislative process.

By implementing a new misconduct reporting system, requiring a new licensing status database and repealing the problematic officer “discharge” categories on the F-5 employment termination report, what lawmakers have approved this year is not only a dramatic improvement in how Texas regulates law enforcement, but it is leaps and bounds above what legislators considered two years ago.

As a result of their efforts, lawmakers this session have made excellent progress toward building the public’s confidence in law enforcement and establishing a regulatory structure rooted in good data, transparency and accountability.

Major reforms that would be enacted include the following:
  • Requiring local agencies to adopt a model policy on how officer misconduct is investigated and requiring local agencies to report instances of misconduct to TCOLE.
  • Standardizing officers’ personnel files and requiring these files to be sent to TCOLE as part of a “licensing status database.”
  • Requiring TCOLE to develop a public-facing database where members of the public can view officers’ basic information, such as their license status, current employing agency and their completion of basic training requirements.
  • Requiring added checks to ensure that law enforcement agencies in Texas do not hire officers from other states who left their previous posts under questionable circumstances.

Texas 2036 will continue to monitor the implementation of this landmark set of reforms 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. Lawmakers have made great strides toward putting the regulation of law enforcement on a stronger foundation and seizing the opportunity to strengthen the profession and better protect all Texans.

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