Study Says Texas Law Enforcement Hiring and Firing Procedures Need Improvement
AUSTIN, TEXAS– The Texas Commission of Law Enforcement (TCOLE) oversees more than 2,700 law enforcement agencies, 78,500 peace officers, 22,300 county jailers and 8,800 telecommunications (dispatchers), yet lacks a comprehensive data infrastructure that would lead to more public transparency, trust and confidence. security.
This was the main conclusion of the news Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape report released by Texas 2036 ahead of Sunset Advisory Commission staff recommendations for TCOLE, which are expected to be released on Thursday, November 17.
This year marks the second consecutive sunset review of TCOLE by the Texas Sunset Commission. In its 2020 report, the Commission concluded that Texas’ approach to law enforcement regulation was “largely ineffective”, “toothless”, and “fundamentally broken”. The 2020 report found that a quarter of TCOLE licensees who received a dishonorable discharge were rehired at another law enforcement agency.. However, the proposed TCOLE Sunset Bill failed to pass the Legislative Assembly in 2021, leading to the current sunset review process in 2022-2023.
“Public safety is a necessary ingredient for Texas to prosper and succeed,” said Margaret Spellings, president and CEO of Texas 2036. “Our law enforcement officers and the Texans they serve and protect deserve a regulatory agency that effectively supports and oversees this vital profession.Legislators and stakeholders need a strong data-based foundation to build an effective regulatory structure.
Meanwhile, Texas 2036 has partnered with Benchmark Analytics, a law enforcement data management company, to develop the Texas Law Enforcement Data Landscape. The resulting report further explored the issue of “roaming officers” (when terminated, peace officers are rehired to another agency) and compared TCOLE to monitoring the enforcement of the law of other states. It also explored other law enforcement data issues, such as motor vehicle stops.
This comprehensive report found that Texas law enforcement has rehired at least 1,401 dishonorable discharged law enforcement officers over the past decade.. These rehires are concentrated in smaller agencies and less populated communities in Texas. In the report, Texas 2036 also made a broad set of recommendations to the Legislative Assembly, including:
- Increasing Transparency and Reforming “F-5” Separation Reporting – How Texas Handles “Wandering Officers”;
- Provide a public database of agency and agent information and statistics;
- Provide better investments in TCOLE data infrastructure to detect data errors; and
- Significantly improve motor vehicle stop data reporting and management standards.
The report’s more than 25 findings and accompanying recommendations are divided into five parts:
1) Comparisons with Peer States: TCOLE oversees more departments while receiving disproportionately less funds than agencies in other states. In addition, Texas law has different and often lower requirements than those other states in areas such as hiring out-of-state agents or publicly reporting agent misconduct.
2) The challenge of the “wandering officers”: A “wandering officer” is a peace officer who is terminated for cause by one law enforcement agency and then rehired by another. TCOLE’s Notice of Separation Report (F-5) and attendant systems for wandering agents are inadequate. They hamper the ability of law enforcement and the public to examine agency practices and each officer’s full employment history – especially when roaming agents move between branches.
3) Data to support monitoring and regulation: TCOLE collects and administers the licensing and employment of personnel from the agencies it oversees, but reasons for revoked, canceled and suspended officer’s licenses are not readily identifiable.
4) Motor vehicle stop data: Information reported to TCOLE by agencies on motor vehicle stops is unreliable and largely unusable for identifying problematic policing practices. Texas needs more specific data quality guidelines and standards that would help the state move toward actionable, incident-based, micro-level data and more complex statistical techniques.
5) Complete data and reporting systems: TCOLE has the opportunity to improve its data infrastructure to improve services to law enforcement agencies and officers and public access to critical information. TCOLE should accept public comments on how data is shared, including through surveys, public meetings and open public comment periods.
A key finding of the report relates to the system followed by law enforcement agencies to report the departure of an officer. In Texas, a chief fills out an F-5 report every time an officer leaves the agency and gives the officer a “discharge”. The rejection categories are:
(1) honorably discharged (in good standing);
(2) generally released (documented discipline or performance problem); and
(3) Dishonorable Licensee (criminal misconduct, insubordination or lying).
A dismissed officer may also appeal the Chief’s decision for dismissal. The data landscape finds that these appeals by fired officers are usually successful – sometimes because the agency that filed the F-5 did not participate in the proceedings.
The F-5 report is confidential and made available only to TCOLE, the chief completing the report, the agent, and any agency performing a background check on the agent during the hiring process. Of the 18,049 F-5 reports that are filed each year across Texas on average, 527, or 2.9 percent, are dishonorable releases. A dishonourably dismissed peace officer is still permitted and eligible for rehire unless they receive a second dishonorable discharge.
“Texas has the opportunity to make meaningful improvements in law enforcement regulation,” said Luis Soberon, policy adviser for Texas 2036. “The men and women who serve Texans every day deserve a regulatory framework. rooted in good data, transparency, and accountability. This report helps set the stage for how Texas can deal with errant officers, motor vehicle stop data gaps, and other pressing issues. We stand ready to provide information to legislators as they consider these issues and recommendations.
“Texas 2036 strives to fully understand how data systems can improve justice and safety and support the important work our law enforcement does,” said Holly Heard, PhD, vice president of data and analysis at Texas 2036. “Clear and transparent data help build public trust in institutions.