What you need to know: TCOLE reform
The gavel has come down on the 88th regular legislative session, and we focus this week on what lawmakers accomplished on fostering transparency and accountability in law enforcement.
Building confidence in law enforcement
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.
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.
👮 Did you know? TCOLE is responsible for licensing and certifying nearly 115,000 peace officers, county jailers, telecommunicators and school marshals statewide.
SB 1445: What you need to know
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.
🌅 The more you know… all state agencies must undergo a Sunset review, which is a regular assessment of the continuing need for that agency to exist. During the review process, staff with the Sunset Advisory Commission recommends ways to make the agency more effective and efficient.
👉 Love this newsletter? Support our work with a donation.
Law enforcement reform: How we got here
Following the failure of Sunset legislation in the 2021 regular legislative session, 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.
Here were the key takeaways from our data landscape:
- Compared to peer states, TCOLE oversees more agencies with fewer resources.
- Texas’ system for handling the “wandering officer” needs transparency and reform.
- TCOLE’s database for licensees and agencies has potential to support agencies and inform the public.
Ultimately, findings from the Texas 2036 data landscape helped inform the policy discussions that shaped SB 1445 as it moved through the legislative process.
👉 Read more: 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:
- Requires many law enforcement agencies to obtain an accreditation from a recognized accrediting body, ensuring these programs follow adequate policies and procedures covering issues like use of force and personnel matters.
- Provides a grant program to help with the costs of obtaining accreditation.
This bill applies to law enforcement agencies with 20 or more peace officers, as well as school districts’ police departments.
SB 267 awaits the Governor’s signature.
What grade would you give lawmakers on fostering transparency and accountability at TCOLE?
The Bottom Line
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.
Our Work Doesn’t Stop Here
The work of Texas 2036 doesn’t end after lawmakers adjourn sine die on the final day of the legislative session. We’ll keep tracking how the decisions made this session impact the lives of everyday Texans.
If you love our work, consider making a donation. 🤝