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Hoping that new safety law can be that ‘rising tide’

ROYCE WEST | 9/25/2018, 8:50 p.m.
It was with much concern and the need to act that the conversations that would become Senate Bill 30, the ...
State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas)

Texas Senate

It was with much concern and the need to act that the conversations that would become Senate Bill 30, the Community Safety Education Act, were born. Summer 2016 was a season of nationwide unrest, following a succession of fatal interactions between law enforcement and unarmed citizens that still causes social discord and uncomfortable discussion.

Two years and a few months later, I can say that I have yet to find those who will publicly say that providing more information to citizens and more training for officers, in hopes of avoiding tragic outcomes, is a bad idea.

To refresh, Senate Bill 30, as of Sept. 1, is now law and implementation is at hand. The new law provides information on the behavioral expectations for citizens and law enforcement during a traffic stop and the rights of citizens under the law. Training for law enforcement will reinforce officers’ responsibilities to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to communicate effectively with drivers regarding the process of a traffic stop and their obligation to appear in court.

SB30 also mandates instruction and course completion for Texas high school students, including teaching them their rights, and what they should do to safely navigate something that can begin with a simple traffic stop, but could needlessly result in loss of life.

Since the SB30’s passage by the Texas Legislature in 2017, much has taken place. The Texas Education Agency, along with the state’s licensing agency, were charged with creating instructional materials for driver education and defensive driving courses, and also for Texas high schools students. The Commission on Law Enforcement Education was tasked with developing training materials, so that officers – current and future – will be equipped with the same instructions taught to drivers about what they should expect, and how each party should or may respond during an interaction.

Through agreement with the Department of Public Safety, the same information can now be found in the driver training manual, and as of June this year, has been incorporated into driver’s license testing.

What instructions and information am I talking about? Something as easy to understand as: You, as a driver or your passengers, should not shuffle around inside your car as an officer approaches. Your search for your license and insurance might look like you are reaching for a weapon. And I would tell my own wife and daughter that if they are traveling alone at night on a dark road, it is permissible to cut on their inside lights, slow down, turn on their flashers and locate a well-lit area where there are people, or even to pull into a parking lot before stopping. It is also legal and permissible to call 9-1-1 and leave your phone visible – but not point it toward an officer – to confirm that a real officer is making the stop.

I said earlier that this problem is bigger than Texas, so over the last year, contacts have been made with state legislatures all across the country in hopes of sharing the merits and thoughts behind SB30. Of the 30 states contacted, three have approved new laws or rules based on SB30. Action is pending in others.

By increasing the awareness of the driving public and combining those efforts with the same training for officers on what behaviors they may anticipate from motorists, our intent is that this rising tide of knowledge will elevate not only safety, but also make for better understanding among diverse communities who all converge on shared roadways. If it changes the actions of just one driver, or spares the anguish of but one family or eliminates the need for a single officer to second-guess what he or she could have done differently, all the energy poured into the Community Safety Education Act will have been worth the effort.

Senator Royce West a member of the Texas Senate representing the Dallas-based 23rd District. He is vice chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and is a member of Senate committees on Administration, Education and Finance.