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Texas increases transparency, accountability in policing

ERIC JOHNSON | 7/10/2017, 10 a.m.
Recent highly publicized fatal interactions between civilians and law enforcement have resulted in a significant decline in trust between law ...
Rep. Eric Johnson of the Texas House of Representatives. Official photo

Texas House of Representatives

Recent highly publicized fatal interactions between civilians and law enforcement have resulted in a significant decline in trust between law enforcement and communities throughout the United States. These fatal interactions tragically hit close to home when 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was shot and killed by a Balch Springs police officer a couple of months ago.

Last week, the Dallas Morning News reported that in the wake of the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, African American teens were actively avoiding interacting with law enforcement by changing their daily routines out of fear and a lack of trust. Gallup recently reported that only 56 percent of Americans have confidence in the police, with this number being significantly lower for African Americans. Pew Research Center reported that only 14 percent of African Americans feel “very confident” in their local police.

This growing lack of trust is fueling a national public safety crisis. Police officers are tasked with keeping communities safe, something that cannot effectively be done if trust does not exist between officers and the individuals they are tasked with protecting.

Taking steps to increase transparency and accountability in policing is a way to help restore this trust. Up until two years ago, the State of Texas did not have a statewide, uniform process for law enforcement agencies to report officer-involved shootings; in fact, these shootings were not required to be reported at all. I passed a law in 2015, House Bill 1036, that requires law enforcement agencies to report all officer-involved shootings and peace officer injuries and deaths to the Texas Attorney General.

The Legislature recently passed House Bill 245, a bill I authored to strengthen my 2015 law by imposing a civil penalty on law enforcement agencies that fail to report their officer-involved shootings to the Texas Attorney General, a necessary step to ensure the state’s database of officer-involved shootings and peace officer injuries and deaths is complete.

House Bill 245, which becomes effective on Sept. 1, will give us greater confidence in the data we collect so we can accurately assess how frequently fatal interactions between civilians and law enforcement occur and under what circumstances. Once we have the facts, hopefully we can better understand why these instances occur and begin to develop solutions. And while these laws alone are not enough to restore the community’s confidence in the police, they are certainly a step in the right direction.

State Rep. Eric Johnson represents District 100, which includes parts of Dallas and Mesquite, in the Texas House of Representatives. He serves on three prominent committees: Vice Chair for the Redistricting Committee, the Ways and Means Committee and the Investments and Financial Services Committee.