If one Texas lawmaker has his say on police-community relationships, it could become a high school graduation requirement that ninth grade students learn how to properly interact with law enforcement.
State Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) announced Thursday he plans to file a bill mandating that schools teach students how to behave when they get stopped by officers for traffic violations, or for any other reason. The two-sided legislation hopes to minimize negative interactions by addressing how both sides engage with each other.
“There is no home team or visiting team. We must all come together to develop the best strategies to improve relations and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Whitmire in a press release. “Increased training and education for both peace officers and our students will help foster positive relations and interactions.”
Whitmire told San Antonio News Radio WOAI: “You can’t win on the streets when you have been pulled over by an officer, if you don’t follow his or her instructions, it’s just that simple.”
He noted young people may not be hearing that message at home. Whitmire said the course could include police and community leaders talking with kids about what is a police stop, what are their rights in such a situation, as well as the rights of police officers. The goal is to find the best ways to affect a positive outcome on both sides.
The bill actually would charge the State Board of Education (SBOE) with establishing the curriculum guidelines for ninth graders to learn about law enforcement duties and strengthen their knowledge base on successful interactions.
On Friday, Larance Coleman, political director for Whitmire, told Breitbart Texas the bill would become part of Texas Education Code under Section 28.025, making the course a requirement to receive a high school diploma. If passed, this legislation would be the first of its kind in the state.
Coleman underscored the bill remains in its earliest stages. Whitmire made the announcement to float the concept and solicit feedback. He will submit a draft in mid-November for debate in preparation for the 85th Legislature that convenes in January 2017.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee next meets in Austin on October 4. Whitmire asked members to review statewide law enforcement efforts that engage community leaders and increase their involvement in communities, recommend ways to reduce the number of injuries and deaths to or by law enforcement, study the dangers to police officers, and examine the collection and distribution of threat assessment data.
This bill follows recent police shootings of black men in Tulsa and Charlotte. It also comes in the wake of the deadly ambush of four Dallas police officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agent protecting Black Lives Matter protesters on July 7. Gunman Micah X. Johnson shot the five officers towards the end of the demonstration. Nine other law enforcement agents were injured.
Whitmire also said there were no winners in the Sandra Bland case. “If either one of those individuals would have taken a deep breath, deescalated things,” he told WOAI. “She lost her life, unfortunately, he ruined his career.”
Bland committed suicide in a Houston-area jail cell days after being pulled over by a Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper where a confrontation ensued following Bland’s refusal to put out her cigarette at the request of the officer. He was later fired and indicted on a misdemeanor perjury charge.
Whitmire authored the historic House Bill 2398, the 2013 law that decriminalized truancy. It requires schools to take common sense steps in addressing the deeper issues behind a student’s habitual failure to attend school (FTAS), including homelessness, chronic illness, or unidentified special education needs. Upon failed remediation attempts, schools can only refer a student to civil and not criminal courts. Judges may order students to counseling or tutoring but no longer do minors leave a courtroom with a criminal record.
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