AUSTIN, Texas (TRIBUNE) – Texas would require high school students, drivers-in-training and police officers to be taught how law enforcement and civilians should interact under a measure approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday. The proposal now heads to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 30 is a bipartisan response to deadly encounters between law enforcement and civilians seen in recent years throughout the country. In Texas, it comes after the high-profile case of Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman arrested in Waller County after a traffic stop whose videotaped argument with an officer became national news after she was found hanged to death in her jail cell three days later.
Under the bill, the State Board of Education and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement would work together to establish instruction on interacting with law enforcement for students in grades 9-12 and a civilian interaction training program for peace officers. The Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation would be responsible for ensuring driver education and safety courses include instruction on what to do during traffic stops.
All three will be taught the same things, including the responsibility and duties of law enforcement, a person's rights during an interaction, proper behavior for each party involved and how to file a complaint against an officer.
The bill's author, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the proposal isn't focused on telling someone what they can't do but "about establishing expectations" of civilians and law enforcement.
Reaction has been mixed. Many lawmakers — and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — support the bill. Community leaders, parents and civil rights activists are split, with some welcoming the bill's intent as working toward a change especially needed in communities of color and others saying the proposals are common sense and should be taught at home.
Pastor James Nash of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church said Tuesday that young men in his community say police target them. The gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve needs to be closed, he said when testifying in support of the bill.
"We have a responsibility in our homes to tell our children to respond to situations so that they, too, can come home," the Houston pastor said.
In January, Brandelyn Flunder, a recent transplant to Manor, told the Tribune she wants her 14-year-old son to have safe interactions with police officers — but she doesn't think he should be required to learn that in school.
"My black son interacting with police would be different than another person, a typical white person," she said, adding that she also wants to see a bill requiring police officers to confront their implicit racial biases.
"I'm skeptical about what he can do to make the interaction better when he's not likely to be the one escalating the situation," she said.
Stephanie Stoebe, a teacher at Teravista Elementary in Round Rock ISD, told the Tribune students should be learning how to have respectful interactions with police from their parents at home.
“The parent is the first teacher. Parents need to start sending their child to school with the attitude, ‘In our families, we respect police officers,’” she said.
No one spoke against the bill Tuesday.