When a driver is pulled over and feels that the officer wasn’t as respectful of their rights as they should have been, the driver has a right to file a complaint. But, up until now, many people were unsure of exactly how to do so – the Texas Department of Public Safety and Austin Police Department will now make that easier for some Texans.
At a recent Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing the discussion centered on how to repair the relationship between civilians and police officers.
While the committee was focused on what could be done legislatively, Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) urged the invited experts to brainstorm ways that these relationships could be fixed locally, saying she’d much rather see them done on that level then having to come from the state.
From that appeal, an immediate policy change came about.
Steve McCraw, executive director of the DPS, and Art Acevedo, chief of Austin Police Department, decided to immediately include contact information on the back of tickets and warnings notifying drivers of how they can complain in the instance that they have a bad interaction with a police officer.
While that was the only immediate change that came from the panel of law enforcement officials and community leaders, the hearing did present many proposals for legislation going forward.
Last week, committee chair, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), released a proposal for legislation requiring schools to teach ninth graders proper interaction with police officers and what to do when pulled over. During the hearing, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) expressed support for the initiative as well as saying he wanted that education to be included as an area on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Test (TEKS).
While teaching new drivers their rights and how to properly respond when pulled over is noteworthy, without making increased police training the other component of that equation it doesn’t seem like a substantive response to the ongoing discourse. However, time will only tell exactly what that legislation will look like.
Another reform, brought up by Acevedo, was to increase the time limit to take disciplinary action on a police officer following a complaint of misconduct from 180 calendar days (or six months) to one year. Acevedo said, “When we uncover something in 190 days and we’re limited to what we can do as an organization it hurts the good cops.”
These reforms are a positive step in improving relations, and hopefully HPD, the only other law enforcement organization on the panel, will follow along in implementing the citation transparency change.
It’s refreshing to see reforms immediately being put in place on the local level while bringing all parties together to iron out statewide policy.