Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape: New report

This is a preview of our Texas 2036 newsletter about our top policy priorities for the upcoming Texas Legislative Session. To receive this weekly highlight of our work, sign up here.

Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape 🚔

Our new study, in partnership with Benchmark Analytics, shows gaps in Texas law enforcement hiring and firing procedures and deficiencies in data.

Setting the Scene: The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, oversees more than 2,700 law enforcement agencies, 78,500 peace officers, 22,300 county jailers and 8,800 dispatchers.

Cause for Concern: Our new report, Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape, shows that the agency lacks a comprehensive data infrastructure that would lead to more public transparency, trust and safety.

  • The report found Texas law enforcement agencies rehired at least 1,400 dishonorably discharged peace officers over the past decade.
“Wandering Officers” 👮

In Other Words: A “wandering officer” is a peace officer who is fired or resigns in lieu of getting fired and is then rehired to work at another agency.

Our report found that the rehiring of dishonorably discharged peace officers is concentrated in smaller agencies and more sparsely populated communities in Texas.

Why This Matters: According to a Yale Law Journal study using more than 20 years of officer data from Florida, wandering officers—compared to officers who resigned on good terms and left to find new work—were:

  • More likely to get fired again for misconduct;
  • More likely to receive complaints of serious “moral character violations.”

Double Take: It takes only one instance of serious misconduct to create a significant breach in public trust for a law enforcement agency and the profession at large.

F-5 Separation Reports 🗂

How It Works: In Texas, a law enforcement chief fills out an F-5 separation report any time an officer leaves the agency. F-5 discharge categories include:

  • Honorably Discharged: In good standing;
  • General Discharge: Disciplinary investigation or documented performance problem; and,
  • Dishonorably Discharged: Allegations of criminal misconduct, insubordination or untruthfulness.

Why This Matters: F-5 reports are confidential and discharged officers can also appeal the determination for their dismissal.

  • Our report showed that appeals by fired officers are usually successful—sometimes because the agency that filed the F-5 did not participate in the proceeding to defend its decision.
Other Findings 🔍

Dive Deeper: The Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape’s more than 25 findings include:

  • Comparisons to peer states: TCOLE oversees more law enforcement agencies—roughly 2,700 compared to 600 in California—while receiving disproportionately fewer funds than agencies in other states.
  • Motor vehicle stop data: The information reported to TCOLE on motor vehicle stops is unreliable and largely unusable for identifying problematic policing practices.
  • Comprehensive data and reporting systems: TCOLE has the opportunity to enhance its data infrastructure to improve services for agencies and officers as well as public access to crucial information.
Texas Voters Say 🗣 

Go Time: In September, our 5th Texas Voter Poll found a majority of Texas voters supported the state taking many of the actions outlined in this report.

  • While 68% of Texas voters said they trust their local law enforcement, 83% say it would increase their confidence in law enforcement if lawmakers made it harder to rehire law enforcement officers who were previously fired for poor conduct.
  • 73% support giving TCOLE more authority to collect information and enforce disciplinary actions in cases of serious misconduct from licensed peace officers; just 14% oppose this policy.
Next Steps 🪜

The Review Process: The agency is once again under review by the Sunset Advisory Commission and is expected to receive staff recommendations for improvement on Thursday, Nov. 17.

  • The Commission’s 2020 report concluded that Texas’ approach to regulating law enforcement was “largely ineffective,” “toothless” and “fundamentally broken.”
  • And its proposed TCOLE Sunset bill failed to pass the Legislature in 2021, leading to the current review process.

Texas 2036 Take: Our comprehensive report also offers a wide-ranging series of recommendations for the Texas Legislature to consider, including:

  • Increase transparency and reform in the F-5 separation reports and how Texas handles wandering officers;
  • Offer a public-facing database of agency and officer information and statistics;
  • Invest in TCOLE’s data infrastructure to catch data errors; and,
  • Improve standards for reporting and maintaining motor vehicle stop data.

👉 Learn more about the Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape and its accompanying recommendations.

It’s your turn, Texas!

How confident are you in Texas law enforcement?

Tell us in our short survey.