Friday, May 05, 2017

Bill to close police misconduct records deserves an undignified death

UPDATE: There was a substantive floor debate on this bill led by members of the black caucus and it was delayed until Saturday at 1 p.m., when an amendment scaling it back radically is expected to be proposed. NUTHER UPDATE: This bill is dead. The author postponed the bill until session is over, offering a comment that this was a bigger piece of legislation than he'd originally understood. Good for Senfronia Thompson and Co. for opposing the bill, and kudos to Greg Bonnen for pulling it down once he realized its true scope and purpose.

Original post:
Grits is unsure how HB 2050 (G. Bonnen) passed through committee without making it onto reformers' radar screens, but it's on the House calendar today and is generally a terrible idea. Basically, it says that when records of police misconduct are shared with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement - the state peace officer licensing agency - that they become closed records in the files of the agency that submitted them.

This is an unremittingly awful idea that should have been vetted in committee - nobody opposed it there and it sailed through on a unanimous vote. But perhaps that's because, to understand why this bill is a bad idea, one must understand the structure of Texas open records law as it relates to police misconduct.

Two different statutes govern Texas police misconduct records. In more than 2,500 law enforcement agencies, most records in an officer's disciplinary file are public. In about 70 departments which have adopted the state civil service code, however, those records are secret under Ch. 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code.

Most of those jurisdictions opted into the civil service code in the 1940s and '50s, but the misconduct records were made secret by the Legislature in 1989. In other words, voters, in nearly all cases, did not elect to close those records - the Legislature closed them at the behest of the police unions after the fact.

So for the 70 or so civil service cities, these records are already secret. But for all but one county sheriff and the overwhelming number of other law enforcement agencies in Texas of all stripes, the statute would close records about police misconduct that are presently open and have been for almost 50 years.

In related news, the black legislative caucus held a press conference yesterday to complain that none of the important police accountability bills filed this session have moved. The Statesman's coverage opened:
Revealing a race-related schism at the Legislature on police reform, members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called for legislative action in the wake of the police killing of Jordan Edwards in North Texas. 
Jordan, an unarmed, 15-year-old, African-American, was killed Saturday by a white Balch Springs police officer as Jordan was riding in a vehicle leaving a party. 
“There’s not a person here who thinks this would have happened in an Anglo community,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “I’m not playing the race card; I’m playing the reality card.” 
Among the measures proposed by the African-American lawmakers that they say have largely been ignored by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, none of which have made it to the floor of the Senate or House for a vote are: 
  • Reforming the way police arrest and send people to county jails, as part of a suite of changes inspired by the arrest of Sandra Bland, the African-American woman who was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell three days after a routine traffic stop escalated into a confrontation with a Department of Public Safety trooper and led to her arrest.
So the House doesn't want to pass bills to hold officers accountable but may pass a bill today to shield their misconduct from the taxpayers who pay officers' salaries. What else could you read into this legislative fact pattern?


Don said...

I agree. Police misconduct should be thoroughly investigated and the "Blue Wall" torn down.

Anonymous said...

Samantha Ramsey is dead and the officer unindicted. That's the reality card Royce. 

Anonymous said...

I'm tired of hearing black this and black that, it happens to the whites also. In our County we had an incompetent Sheriff, who hired incompetent employees and couldn't investigate urine in a boot if the directions were on the heel.