Sequel to 2015 officer-involved shooting bill breezes through House, Senate

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A bill that will penalize law enforcement agencies up to $1,000 a day for each day they fail to report an officer-involved shooting to the state now awaits the governor’s signature before it becomes law.

House Bill  245 is a follow up to the 2015 House Bill 1036 – which is a similar bill authored by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.  Johnson wrote the bills after being inspired by the lack of transparency behind police shootings and the lack of enforcement by state and federal agencies to collect such data.  

Last week the Texas Houston voted on the House Bill 245 by a vote of 112 to 21 and on Tuesday the Senate voted 28 to 3, sending it Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Unlike the FBI database and similar federal and state databases that collect only justified shootings, the 2015 bill required all law enforcement agencies to report to the Office of the Attorney General each of their officer-involved shootings, fatal and nonfatal.

The data is compiled into a state database that tracks cases across Texas. 

The first bill was praised, but a handful of agencies weren’t not reporting, Johnson said in April, saying that he did not believe the intentions were malicious. 

With no enforcement measures in place, it was impossible to ensure state agencies were complying with the state law. However, Johnson hopes his newest bill will increase the database’s effectiveness and reliability. 

Johnson was not available for intimidate comment but he issued a brief statement.

“In order to address officer-involved shootings and peace officer safety, it is important that we have accurate data relating to violent interactions between civilians and the police,” he said in the release.

He said the new bill goes a long way toward helping Texas reduce the number of  fatal encounters involving law enforcement. 

In less than two years, the state database of fatal police force created under the 2015 bill illustrated the gaps in federal records.

Texas officers in 2016 killed people at a rate at least double of what has been reported annually in the federal database for more than a decade, a Houston Chronicle analysis reported in April showed.

It also shows Texas police officers killed 83 people in 2016.

That was 53 more homicides than what’s found in FBI data for the same year.

Further data analysis showed that it was double the state’s annual average of justified homicides reported from 2010 to 2016, based on data obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI.

States, including Texas, still submit justified homicides to the FBI, but there’s one important caveat – all submissions are voluntary, a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement spokeswoman said.

The caveat reduces the accuracy of the data, experts said. 

But experts agree the new 2015 bill and House Bill 245  are steps in the right direction to restoring trust in public officials and police officers. For years, communities have protested and argued they’ve been unfairly targeted by police officers and undercounted in federal stats.

But without a system of accountability state officials have long said they did not have the means or the facts to react.

Federal reports are often challenged and researchers and other advocacy groups, like the Texas Justice Initiative led by Amanda Woog, for years have presented findings that sought to challenge the federal data.

Woog is a University of Texas researcher and criminology expert

She said that if state and local governments want to regain public trust they will have to take additional steps to increase transparency.

“Watchdogs can only do so much, and that work does nothing to engender public trust,” she said. “If anything, it may further erode it.”

It’s up to state leaders mend the relationship, she said.

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