Senator unveils plan to improve race relations among police and the public

A North Texas senator has a plan to reduce tension in this country between police and citizens. It starts with re-vamping traffic stop guidelines in the Texas driver handbook. He's proposing new training for officers too.

FOX 7's Noelle Newton explores the proposed changes in this week’s Crimewatch.

Travis County Deputy Jon Culin walks us through a mock traffic stop in which the driver does exactly what a law enforcement officer would like to see.

"Both of her hands are on the steering wheel. They're not sticking out the window. They're in some comfortable place where he can see there's nothing that's going to hurt me,” said Culin.

This is a key step to ease anxiety of the officer possibly setting the tone for the interaction.

"You never know who you just stopped. You don't know if it's somebody on their way to school. You don't know if it's somebody who just committed some type of murder and now they're trying to escape and they're waiting for that one opportunity to do something to you,” said Culin.

But nowhere in the Texas driver handbook does it say to keep your hands on the wheel.

In fact, traffic stop protocol is in the back of the Texas driver handbook under the last chapter titled "Additional Safety Tips." There is a list of six suggestions.

When Stopped by Law Enforcement

If you are stopped by law enforcement it is suggested you:

1. Move the vehicle safely to the right of the road as soon as possible and stop
2. Place the vehicle in a parking position, set the emergency brake, turn the engine off, and activate the hazard warning lights
3. Remain in the car, lower the driver’s window, and wait for the law enforcement officer to give instructions
4. Follow the instructions of the law enforcement officer
5. Require passengers to remain in the car unless other instructions are given by the law enforcement officer, and
6. Give the appropriate signals and safely return to the proper lane of traffic when released by the law enforcement officer

               

View page 74 of the handbook here.

Deputy Culin can name several other items he'd like to see.

"In some communities in some places it's common for people to come out and actually start approaching the police officer's car. That's something we want to refrain from doing,” said Culin. "Another thing that is very common is arguing your case on the side of the road. The safe place and the right place to do that is in court."

Senator Royce West of Dallas also saw that there was a great deal missing. He contacted DPS Director Steven McCraw to expand that section. McCraw approved.

"I think that's a perfect vehicle to use in order to make certain we define the conduct of citizens and police officers when you have traffic stops,” said West.

West has comprised a taskforce that includes civil rights organizations, police agencies and the Texas Rifle Association. The group met in Austin last month. The purpose is much greater than simply establishing a more thorough "how-to."

"We need to do it because hopefully we can reduce the tension of interaction between law enforcement and citizens,” said West.

Agencies like the Round Rock Police Department have created videos to better inform the public.

West still has lingering questions, "What do you do if you are on a dark street in a rural area and you see flashing lights? Do you stop? Or do you go to the nearest well-lit area and then stop."

West also plans to develop curriculum for middle and high school students. To reach current drivers he wants to include the enhanced traffic stop guidelines in defensive driving courses.

"The whole thing is this. You've got to comply and then complain,” said West.

On the flip-side West wants to better train police cadets about driver behavior.

"Hopefully you build trust back into the system where there isn't any,” said West. "If you have the officers and the citizens knowing exactly what the behavior should be hopefully we can reduce tension and also mishaps as a result of the interaction."

The next Texas driver handbook revision is scheduled for summer of 2017. Any changes as a result of West's work will appear in that version. 

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