Improving relations with police focus of Legislative hearing

A hearing was held Tuesday at the State Capitol to find ways to reduce the number of violent confrontations with police.

Members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee admit they don’t have a lot of time to come up with some ideas. The regular session starts in January. It was also made clear during the hearing that the erosion of trust runs deep and change will not come easy.

The committee hearing opened Tuesday with chairman John Whitmire (D) Houston making it clear the solution they're seeking begins and ends with improving communication.

"Ladies and gentlemen, regardless of where you are from, your ethnicity your profession, whatever your responsibility is, we are in this together."

Recent violent confrontations with law enforcement officers - have shown how deep the mistrust runs. Most of these cases - according to senator Whitmire could have been avoided with better recognition by police of stress factors, like metal illness, and an improved basic understanding by drivers on how to act.

"There is not a quick fix, we are dealing with human nature, we are dealing with some mental health issues, we are dealing with some people that are just bad,” said Sen. Whitmire.

To address the problem, the committee started making a list of possible solutions. They include:

  • Creating a 9th grade course on traffic stop etiquette and also putting that information into driving license manuals.
  • Require the immediate release of police video when a complaint is made. Enacting a minimal penalty for police misconduct.
  • Requiring police to undergo psychological examinations every 3 to 5 years. Expand community policing programs.
  • Train officers to use a less aggressive tone.

A lot of the ideas that were pitched may require some legislative action, but the committee did get a commitment from two agencies regarding one big issue and that is how to file a complaint.

DPS director Steve McCraw promised troopers will add a complaint number to their traffic tickets. And Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said citations will soon include a new brochure with contact information.

No firm date was given as to when the programs would start. The committee was also warned, for positive change to work, improvements should not be left up to individual jurisdictions but be part of a new statewide standard.