Texas police reform effort dies in House

In the year since George Floyd’s death in police custody, cities, counties and states across the nation have grappled with an array of police reform proposals that sought to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

One of those efforts recently ended when a bill to reform the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) was killed in the House of Representatives by its author, Rep. John Cyrier, chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

“Members, I intend to pull this bill down,” Cyrier said on the House floor. “But I am committed to each of you that we will continue this conversation during the interim.”

His TCOLE Sunset reform bill would have given the law enforcement oversight agency the authority to investigate and subpoena its 115,000 licensees.

‘Toothless’ regulation

Last year, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s TCOLE review found that the agency’s regulation of law enforcement is “by and large, toothless.”

The scathing review said that despite a statewide “need to regulate law enforcement,” Texas’s “regulatory approach has resulted in a fragmented, outdated system with poor accountability, lack of statewide standards, and inadequate training.”

TCOLE commissions police officers, jailers and telecommunicators across Texas, but it cannot revoke an officer’s certification unless he or she has been convicted of a felony or a Class A misdemeanor. It cannot discipline a police officer accused of misconduct.

Comparing Texas to Georgia

Austin’s KXAN examined the authority to sanction or revoke licenses granted to similar agencies in other states.

Between 2015 and 2020, TCOLE accepted 444 voluntary license surrenders (lifetime bans from law enforcement work).

In that same time period, Georgia’s equivalent agency revoked 3,648 police officer licenses. Unlike TCOLE, Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council does not have to wait for a criminal conviction before it can suspend or revoke licenses.

Police union reactions to Cyrier’s bill

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) opposed Cyrier’s bill, labeling it “overreach,” and stating that discipline is more ably handled by local authorities, the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and due process.

The Texas Municipal Police Association said it supports enhancing TCOLE authority, but that legislators should first spell out a detailed definition of misconduct and guarantee due process rights to accused officers.

Cyrier asked to postpone further action on the reform bill until early next month.