Topics in this week’s State of Texas AUSTIN (Nexstar) — President Joe Biden is launching an ambitious agenda in his first 100 days in office with key potential impacts on the Lone Star State. On his first day in office, he signed 17 executive orders, which included steps to […]
Topics in this week's State of Texas
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — President Joe Biden is launching an ambitious agenda in his first 100 days in office with key potential impacts on the Lone Star State.
On his first day in office, he signed 17 executive orders, which included steps to address the health and financial toll imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, immigration reform, and climate change. Other initiatives will require action by Congress, which is now controlled by Democrats.
“The first 100 days is like your first drive of a football game,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “You want to set a tone for what’s to come. If you can’t do that in the first 100 days it’s always harder to do later because you run out of political capital pretty fast.”
President Biden has committed to administering 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in his first 100 days. He signed an executive order establishing a federal office to coordinate a “unified” response.
An executive order will also reimburse states for using the National Guard for COVID-19.
While now embracing a hub model for vaccine distribution, Texas’ first few weeks of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout were mired in confusion and chaos — with thousands of private health care providers and pharmacies left on their own to coordinate with eligible patients.
“As Health Sub Committee chair, I’m working with this administration trying to improve vaccine distribution, especially to get vaccines to those people that have born more than their fair share out there as essential workers and our seniors to get them the vaccines and to get them quickly,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, a Democrat. “This goal of 100 million immunized in 100 days can be done we just need to put all of our efforts into that.”
The Biden administration’s first major legislative effort, requiring approval from Congress, will likely be a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that was unveiled last week. President Biden has expressed support for $1,400 direct payments to Americans. The plan also calls for supplemental unemployment benefits of $400 a week.
There were 43,583 new claims for unemployment benefits in Texas in the first week of the year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Biden also signed an executive order to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums and extend a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments until Sept. 30, 2021.
President Biden signed a presidential memorandum aimed at “preserving and fortifying” protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The memorandum also calls on Congress to enact legislation to provide permanent status and a path to citizenship for those protected from deportation by DACA, which the Trump administration fought to terminate.
More than 124,000 DACA recipients live in Texas, second-most of any state behind only California.
President Biden will sign an executive order halting the construction of the wall built by the Trump administration along the U.S.-Mexico border.
President Biden will re-enter the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement and roll back environmental actions issued by former President Donald Trump.
Texas Republicans are already pushing back on those plans. Central Texas Congressman Chip Roy said the moves to rejoin the climate agreement and the World Health Organization “reverse two of the great accomplishments of the Trump administration.” Roy vowed to introduce legislation to prevent taxpayer funds from going to either effort.
President Biden is also drawing opposition in Texas for his plans to transition away from fossil fuels and his commitment to eliminating subsidies for oil and gas companies.
“There are tools that may result in the reduction of production from Texas’ thriving oil and gas industry,” said Chuck DeVore, vice president of national initiatives for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. He said TPPF has lawsuits ready to go targeting policies he sees as federal overreach.
Michael Webber, the deputy director of the University of Texas Energy Institute, said major oil producers are already investing hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in renewable resources, and the Texas economy is less reliant on oil than it was decades ago.
“A lot of oil companies are saying they have to transition away from oil,” Webber told KXAN in October. “It doesn’t mean that oil doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that these policy statements aren’t relevant. It means they don’t have the same impact as they used to.”
On Wednesday, Biden announced he’ll cancel the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which stretches from Houston to Alberta, Canada.
Sen. John Cornyn issued a statement, saying President Biden is kicking an industry while it’s down.
“I hope this isn’t a preview of what’s to come from the Biden administration, but rather that he’ll work with energy-producing states like Texas to find common ground on an all-of-the-above policy,” Cornyn said.
Governor outlines public safety policies
Gov. Greg Abbott took direct aim at Austin over what he calls police department defunding during a press conference Thursday.
Following a roundtable discussion with various law enforcement officials from throughout the state, Abbott used the press conference to single out Austin City Council’s plan to gradually shift money away from the Austin Police Department.
“Texas is a law and order state, and we are going to ensure that we keep it that way,” Abbott said. “Defunding the police is reckless … we cannot, and we will not, allow cities like Austin to defund the police.”
His message was clear — he’s going to push the Texas Legislature to pass laws this session that punish cities for taking money out of police departments. He said he wants to make it “fiscally impossible” for cities to do so.
“It would give cities a clear choice,” he said. “Either fulfill their duty to keep residents safe or lose access to all of their tax revenue.”
Previously, Abbott said he’d explore an option of the Texas Department of Public Safety taking over policing in Austin. At the end of the press conference, when asked if he still supported the plan, he said that’s “an issue for another day.”
While none of the law enforcement officials in the roundtable discussion represented the City of Austin, APD or Travis County, Abbott said he has spoken with APD Chief Brian Manley “on multiple occasions” about the department’s decrease in funding.
“What I know is what the city council’s position is,” Abbott said. “We made it clear with what they’ve done in regards of defunding police is unacceptable.”
Before the press conference, Austin City Council member Greg Casar provided KXAN a statement about the governor’s previous statements regarding removing police responsibility from the city.
In the wake of unjustifiable shootings and violence by police, our community has pushed the city to make much needed change. Now, Gov. Abbott is supporting proposals to protect departments that do the wrong thing.
He wants to punish Austin for establishing a civil rights office, family violence shelters, an independent forensic lab and substance use programs in our latest budget. It’s yet another chapter of his political theater, and it’s clear he doesn’t know the first thing about saving lives.
If Gov. Abbott is so interested in the local budget process, he should file to run for Austin City Council. The election in his district is next year. I don’t expect he’d do very well.AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL MEMBER GREG CASAR
Abbott said another priority he has this session is to pass, in some form, a reform of the state’s bail system. He pointed toward the “Damon Allen Act,” legislation he introduced in 2018 as one piece of legislation he’d like to see become law.
“The fact is Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said. “I’m working with the legislature to develop strategies to end the revolving-door bail system we have in Texas.”
The act is named for Damon Allen, a DPS trooper who was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. Abbott said the person who shot Allen was out on bail and should have been in jail.
The act aims to increase communication in the courts by ensuring judges have the full criminal history of a defendant before setting bail. But, civil rights advocates said bail reform in Texas needs to go even further.
“What we need is for judges to make meaningful, individualized determinations about someone’s risk, I mean, bail should be based on someone’s risk, and not the amount of money in their bank account,” Nick Hudson with ACLU Texas explained after the governor’s press conference.
Chas Moore with the Austin Justice Coalition agreed.
“The cash bail system is completely flawed; it’s very discriminatory,” Moore said.
Moore also added he was disappointed the governor’s roundtable failed to include important perspectives.
“He could have invited activists and organizers who have been begging for police accountability at the table,” Moore continued. “He completely disregarded the number of people that have been killed by police, the number of people that have been wrongfully arrested by police, the number of people that have been, you know, sitting in jails for far too long, because they can’t afford bail.”
Both civil rights advocates agreed police reform should have been included in the governor’s top public safety priorities.
“At the top of the list for lawmakers, this session should be passing the George Floyd Act. It will do things like ensure that we can hold bad officers accountable in state court, it’ll ensure that we can reduce arrests for things that are really petty,” Hudson said.
Hudson added they are hoping to work with Abbott and other legislators to pass bipartisan bail reform that includes what both sides of the aisle want and hopefully include police reform.
The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas agreed with Abbott’s priorities to discourage cities from pulling police funding, and the effort to reform the state’s bail system.
“We’re in favor of anything that would take hardened criminals off the streets and have an impact on officer safety and the public safety,” CLEAT public affairs coordinator Jennifer Szimanski said after Abbott’s press conference.
She said CLEAT will also be pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that will require more training beyond the beginning of officers’ careers, and beyond extra training after any mishaps.
“Instead of reactive training, it’s really more about professional development. So developing that officer into a professional and honing in their skill, and really letting them come back to the training academy. And, and work on those skills throughout their career,” Szimanski said.
Szimanski said CLEAT will also be holding lawmakers accountable for any promises they make this session.
“While we asked for additional training and meaningful training, this is an endeavor that obviously is going to cost money, but are they willing to fund it? That’s the question. By the end of the session, we will see who really wants to change and who didn’t,” Szimanski said.
While Abbott said homelessness wasn’t on the agenda for the roundtable, he addressed it by referring to a tweet he posted Wednesday saying, “if Austin doesn’t reinstate the ban on homeless camping, the state will do it for them.”
He said homelessness is going to be an issue this session, and he said he expects to announce a statewide homelessness plan that includes a ban on camping, “as well as other ideas to make sure that Texas will be able to effectively and aggressively address the homeless situation.”
Clarence Crawford recalled feeling he was in potential danger when a New Braunfels police officer flashed his lights and sounded a siren behind him on Interstate 35 last January.
Crawford, a 43-year-old Black man, had not been speeding or swerving or breaking any traffic laws that he knew of, he later said. He exited the highway and pulled into a medical clinic parking lot for the traffic stop.
His arrest was swift.
Officer Kaleb Meyer stepped out of his patrol car with his handgun drawn and yelled at a passerby to move away. Meyer immediately pointed his gun at Crawford through the open driver’s side window and ordered him to place his hand on the wheel. Crawford argued with the officer about putting his hands on the wheel and getting out of the car but he ultimately complied when the officer pulled out a seat belt cutting tool. The officer grabbed him around the wrist as he got out, video shows.
It wasn’t until after Crawford was pulled from his white Pontiac sedan, pushed face down on the pavement, kneeled on, shocked twice on the back of his right knee with a stun gun, and handcuffed that he learned the reason for his arrest: a dirty rear license plate.
Crawford was charged with two misdemeanors, evading arrest and interfering with public duties, according to Comal County records.
Meyer’s body and dashboard video cameras captured the arrest, including Meyer’s justification to his supervisor for initiating the stop and why it so quickly boiled into a violent confrontation. Crawford had taken two minutes to stop, missed two highway exits and several driveways, kept his hands down when Meyer approached the car and didn’t cooperate with orders, Meyer said.
Ten months after the arrest, New Braunfels’ city manager released a statement saying Meyer had not followed his training. Meyer resigned, and Crawford’s version of the incident has cast further doubt on the reason it happened in the first place, according to court records.
Crawford said Meyer pulled up next to him at a stoplight before they got on I-35, indicating Meyer knew Crawford’s race. Crawford’s tag was supposedly too dirty, a violation of state law, but Meyer was able to relay the plate number correctly to dispatch on his first try. Perhaps above all, though Crawford was argumentative and yelling at times, police video shows Meyer did nothing to deescalate the situation.
Now, the city of New Braunfels faces a federal lawsuit alleging Crawford was racially profiled and his constitutional rights were violated. Charges against Crawford were dropped months later, but he was traumatized and lost his job two weeks after the arrest, according the federal lawsuit.
Other recent cases of Black individuals being stopped for minor traffic violations that escalated to violent confrontations garnered national attention. In 2015, an Austin Police officer stopped 26-year-old Breaion King, a Black elementary school teacher, after he said she was speeding. The officer picked up and slammed King down against the pavement in a mall parking lot during the encounter.
That same year, a state trooper in Waller County stopped 28-year-old Sandra Bland after he said she didn’t signal before changing lanes. The state trooper aimed his stun gun at Bland and screamed “I will light you up.” Bland was booked into jail and died days later. The medical examiner ruled her death a suicide.
Those high-profile incidents, and Bland’s in particular, spotlighted Texas’ racial profiling reporting law. That law requires all departments that conduct traffic stops to report their stop data and analyze it. Through these racial profiling reports, if done properly, a department can find indicators of racist policing and work to address it.
“We can’t necessarily get inside the head of the officer and study that case by case, but if we look at tens of thousands, or millions or hundreds of thousands of observations, we can see whether there’s any statistical patterns that suggest that Blacks and whites and Hispanics might not be treated equally by law enforcement,” said Frank Baumgartner, a professor at the University of North Carolina who specializes in statistical analysis of traffic stop outcomes.
Texas’ racial profiling law has been in place for two decades, but a KXAN investigation found flaws so deep in the state’s collection, oversight and enforcement that experts say the available information is essentially unusable.
“The data that are presented by the state of Texas are completely unhelpful, and you can’t reach any conclusions about the very purpose for which the data was collected. So, it’s useless,” Baumgartner said.
Texas’ racial reporting laws have two vital reporting requirements. First, every agency that makes traffic stops must compile that data and submit it annually in a report to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, also know as TCOLE. The law requires those reports include an array of information, including a breakdown of stops by race and whether vehicle searches were conducted.
KXAN found TCOLE’s database is missing data from more than 250 law enforcement agencies in the past four years.
Second, law enforcement departments are also required to submit a “comparative analysis” of that racial profiling data to TCOLE. However, when KXAN requested those comparative analyses, TCOLE could not produce any for the past 10 years. TCOLE later admitted to KXAN it has not mandated that part of the law.
Furthermore, TCOLE has not taken a single official enforcement action against any law enforcement agency in the past five years for these failures. Texas law sets fines for non-compliance at $5,000 per violation.
In an interview with Kim Vickers, TCOLE’s executive director, KXAN asked if his agency has collected the comparative analysis annually.
“That’s a very good question, and it’s a difficult question,” Vickers responded. “Because what exactly is a comparative analysis? And, that can take many different forms.”
The requirement to submit a comparative analysis has existed since Texas’ racial profiling law came into existence in 2001.
“Data without the analysis is like a car without gas; you simply cannot make anything out of it. It is just numbers that are absolutely meaningless,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, a racial profiling report expert and professor of criminology at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth.
Between 2001 and 2009, the law required law enforcement agencies to submit their comparative analysis to their local governments.
A 2009 revision to the law, authored by former Irving Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, made it a requirement to submit the reports to TCOLE as well. That should have created a central, statewide repository.
“At that point we really didn’t have any means of collecting data to know who was being stopped, why they were being stopped or what crimes were being committed — and analyzing it,” Harper-Brown said in an interview with KXAN. “That was a big part of the bill. We wanted someone to analyze the data and tell us what was happening.”
TCOLE’s website provides explicit directions to carry out this law. To satisfy reporting requirements, a department must do two things: submit its data in an annual online report and also upload “a separate PDF comparative analysis document containing a statistical analysis of its motor vehicle stops compared to the gender and ethnic population of the agency’s reporting area.”
Vickers acknowledged that TCOLE has not collected that comparative analysis and that it should be a separate document from the data report.
“I get your point and I see exactly what you’re saying. The raw numbers are components of it, but somebody needs to look at it and try to interpret those,” Vickers said. “My issue is, you’re going to an agency of five officers and nobody there has an idea, even a clue, of how to do that. I’m not saying that excuses it, I’m just saying we need — the state needs to — and I guess that goes through us, to try to see if we can facilitate that.”
Harper-Brown said TCOLE had “let down the public” with its lack of effort in collecting the racial profiling analysis.
“It is very disappointing to me because, as I said, this is a protective measure for everyone involved,” Harper-Brown said. “This takes it out of the realm of hearsay or anecdotal evidence and puts it into actual data gathering and risk analysis to determine whether there is an issue within a law enforcement agency or an issue with a particular officer or a particular group of officers and to determine what measures need to be taken to correct the problem.”
One day after his interview with KXAN, Vickers said he had sent a message to every law enforcement department in the state explaining the requirement to submit a report and comparative analysis, including that a department’s chief could face action against his license or an agency could be hit with a civil penalty for failing to submit those records.
Section 2.143 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure details exactly what a comparative analysis does:
- Compare number of traffic stops to races stopped.
- Examine outcome of stops and searches to race.
- Evaluate and compare number of searches by race and whether evidence/contraband found.
Lacking a specific template for a comparative analysis, and with no enforcement of the provision, law enforcement departments across Texas have be left to independently decide if and how they will conform with that part of the law.
TCOLE’s most recent report database from 2019 contains over 2,000 law enforcement agencies. More than 1,500 of them reported traffic stops. Without TCOLE acting as a central clearinghouse, a member of the public, or a government agency or an advocacy group would need to file a request with each individual agency to get that record.
Since TCOLE could provide no records of any comparative analyses, KXAN requested the past five years of them from 34 Central Texas law enforcement departments. Some departments are doing them, but the varying responses show scattershot compliance with the law.
Of the departments that responded to KXAN, eight were able to provide an analysis and 13 could not.
Some pointed to the aggregate numbers in their annual reports and asserted those constituted the analysis. However, Vickers and del Carmen both said the annual data report alone did not qualify as an analysis.
Muddying the situation further, some departments told KXAN they had submitted an analysis to the TCOLE. But, in response to multiple requests, TCOLE could not locate or provide any analysis to KXAN.
“TCOLE has not been mandating the submission of the comparative analysis until now, but we have been collecting them from those agencies who have chosen to submit them,” said Gretchen Grigsby, TCOLE’s director of government relations. She added that if a department had mailed or emailed their analysis it would not have been “independently uploaded.”
Some departments, such as the San Marcos Police Department, did an analysis on their own. San Marcos created an eight page analysis in 2020. Others, like New Braunfels PD, hired del Carmen to perform their analyses, which was 81-pages long last year.
Del Carmen said it was “hard to believe” and “shocking news” to him that TCOLE had not collected the comparative analyses he has been preparing for years for numerous Texas agencies he counts as clients.
Counted among those departments that did choose to independently conduct their own analysis is Austin’s police department.
Texas’ racial profiling law requires every law enforcement agency to perform a comparative analysis of the race, ethnicity and gender of every traffic stop annually. Those analyses are designed to find indicators of racial profiling. But our investigation found even departments, like Austin Police, that perform the analysis miss major racial profiling indicators. The reason: state law only requires agencies report total number of traffic stops and associated demographics department wide; not individual traffic stops.
Evidence suggests when a department does commit to analyzing its traffic stop data, the results can be revelatory. Take, for instance, the City of Austin.
Austin’s offices of Equity, Innovation and Police Oversight issued a joint analysis of APD’s police stops in January 2020. The report found, from 2015 to 2018, “Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are increasingly overrepresented in motor vehicle stops from 2015-2018. White/Caucasians are increasingly underrepresented during the same time period.”
The report recommended APD “acknowledge that racial disparity exists and is worsening,” and said that previous methods of racial profiling analysis were “incomplete” and “resulted in a perception that a trend of disparity did not exist.”
A subsequent analysis issued by the city in November 2020, which lumped in 2019’s data, found “between 2015 and 2019, racial disparity persisted and, in many cases, grew worse.” That second report found Black and Hispanic people were overrepresented, compared to their share of the population, in practically every measured category of traffic policing.
Provided with a baseline of data from those reports, Austin officials have set a goal of zero racial disparity in traffic stops, citations, arrests, use-of-force incidents and deaths at the hands of officers by 2023, according to the November report.
Austin took it upon itself to analyze and investigate APD’s traffic stop data. However, with no mandate from TCOLE, many law enforcement departments have not.
The law gives TCOLE authority to discipline and fine a department for failing to comply with racial profiling rules, but KXAN found that has not been happening.
In addition to making TCOLE a central repository for racial profiling reporting, Harper-Brown’s 2009 bill gave the agency power to fine an agency $1,000 for failing to submit a report. That fine increased to $5,000 with the passage of the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that led to significant changes in the racial profiling law, including more detailed reporting.
According to records obtained by KXAN, TCOLE has not issued a single formal enforcement action or fine against a department for failing to submit a racial profiling report in the past five years.
“It is disturbing to me, and it is shocking to me and statistically improbable that over 2,000 police agencies in the state of Texas for the past years have not been identified — not one has been identified — as an agency that has purposely violated the law, as it relates to racial profiling,” del Carmen said.
Vickers initially said his agency has had “100% compliance” with the submittal of racial profiling reports.
However, KXAN found 250 instances over the past four years where departments have zero traffic stop data reported in TCOLE’s database.
After KXAN provided a list of those agencies to TCOLE, Grigsby acknowledged reports were likely missing.
“There are several others that likely should have submitted reports. As Chief Vickers said in his interview, we are always looking to improve this process and appreciate you bringing these to our attention,” Grigsby added.
It is not clear exactly how many of those 250 departments may not be required to report. Texas has hundreds of tiny law enforcement agencies that may not make traffic stops. Those small offices could potentially be exempt from racial profiling reporting requirements; however, they were not labeled exempt in the available data.
“Prior to the Sandra Bland Act taking effect, there was much less clarity that exempt agencies needed to submit confirmation to TCOLE affirming their exemption. That change began to be realized with the 2018 reports,” Grigsby said. “As you can imagine, most city marshals, fire marshals, water districts, DA’s offices, and ISD police departments do not regularly conduct traffic stops and are therefore exempt, but were not strongly pressed to submit a report of exemption prior to (the Bland Act).”
But, not all the agencies KXAN identified were small, fire departments, courts or one-man operations. Many were police departments serving cities with thousands of people. Some were sheriff’s offices overseeing entire counties.
KXAN found TCOLE had no data for 65 law enforcement departments with at least a dozen peace officers.
The Bland Act also contained a provision making police agencies responsible for auditing their data to ensure accuracy. In responses to KXAN, many law enforcement agencies in Central Texas said they have no auditing procedures in place.
KXAN found 16 departments in Central Texas alone that said they have not conducted an audit in the past year.
In 2018 and 2019, Vickers said TCOLE did not check if an agency audited its own data. TCOLE has revised its 2020 reporting form, which should be submitted by all departments by March, to include a line requiring a signature affirming the department followed “statutory data audit requirements.”
Del Carmen said he audits data by taking a sample and checking it against the information in actual citations to make sure it was entered correctly. If a high percentage of the sample is correct, that likely indicates the overall data is reliable.
“If this mechanism is not in place in a police department, and they’re simply reporting data at the end of the year that they have not verified, there is a likelihood that the data that they are reporting is not accurate,” del Carmen said. “If it’s not accurate, any analyses, any inferences, that can be made on that data set are simply going to be null and void.”
TCOLE does not have the authority to go into racial profiling reports and verify the data, Vickers said.
KXAN asked Vickers if his agency could certify that the data the public has access to on TCOLE’s website can be relied on as accurate and truthful.
“The basic answer to your question is, ‘No,’” Vickers said. “I can’t tell you, from a TCOLE point of view, that these numbers are totally accurate because I have no way of knowing that. I have to accept what they send in and that’s what they’re held accountable for.”
Baumgartner says one solution, and what is being done by several states already, is releasing data on individual stops. What Texas currently has available now is essentially “useless,” he said.
“The best solution is just release the spreadsheets of the micro-level individual traffic stops, one stop at the time. Let independent scholars, activists, people who support the police, want to reanalyze the data, to question and analysis by some outside actor,” he said. “Don’t hire a crony to do that analysis and don’t release an annual summary of the data that then can’t be analyzed.”
North Carolina has released over 25 million records of every traffic stop, and other states, like Illinois and Maryland, provide detailed records of stops that can be analyzed, he said.
Adding Texas to that list would likely require a legislative change to the law. But, as del Carmen said, it takes more than what Texas currently requires to find indicators of racial profiling.
“The cumulative or aggregate data only shows you patterns of the agency, which if you have an agency of 50 police officers and one of them is racist, that person is going to be somewhere along the way hidden in the midst of the other 49 because that data will never search if the police agency is not looking inward,” del Carmen said.
That look inward could tip a police department off to a problem and perhaps avert a case like Bland’s, or King’s, or Crawford’s in New Braunfels.
Crawford’s lawsuit remains pending in federal court, and his problems linger. His charges were dismissed, but they remain on his record. He lost his job, and he remains unemployed. All of that, a result of driving home from work with a dirty license plate.
A Promise to Fix Racial Profiling Reporting Problems
When we decided who to ask about correcting the problems we uncovered inside the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s handling of the state’s racial profiling law, the first stop was the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.
The commission is in the middle of deciding whether TCOLE will exist after the legislative session gavels to a close this summer. State agencies undergo Sunset review once every decade and if the legislature fails to pass a bill to continued an agency, it’s eliminated by an effect of law.
TCOLE is one of 19 agencies under review right now.
“I have to say a little bit, it’s not surprising. There are definitely major issues that we are addressing and we will address,” said Rep. John Cyrier, a Republican from Lockhart. Cyrier, who chairs this session’s Sunset Advisory Commission, reviewed the findings of our “Failure to Report” investigation, uncovering oversight lapses in TCOLE’s collection of racial profiling reports.
The racial profiling data is an annual collection of the race, ethnicity and gender of drivers involved in traffic stops across the state. The law, passed in 2001, requires every law enforcement agency in Texas that routinely conducts traffic stops to report traffic stop data to TCOLE by March 1 of each year.
The law also requires Texas law enforcement agencies to perform comparative analyses of that data. The purpose of these analyses are to ensure agencies aren’t simply collecting data and reporting the numbers to the state without first investigating whether indicators of racial profiling exist. Failed collection effort, spotty data undermine Texas’ racial profiling law
Our investigation found 257 local law enforcement agencies did not submit annual racial profiling data to TCOLE since 2016. We also found TCOLE doesn’t have a single comparative analysis on record from any law enforcement agency in Texas — including the state’s largest law enforcement agency: the Texas Department of Public Safety.
TCOLE’s Kim Vickers details why he believes his agency’s role is simply a repository of records and who really bears the responsibility of policing compliance with the state’s racial profiling law.
For the rest of the interview, click on the links below:
TCOLE has exclusive authority to punish law enforcement chief administrators for “knowingly” failing to comply with the law. Non-compliance carries a fine of $5,000. TCOLE confirmed to KXAN the agency’s never disciplined or fined a chief administrator for failing to turn in racial profiling data or a comparative analysis.
“It’s very disappointing. There are things we have found, others have found; quite frankly the director has admitted to. He knows it’s broken, and he’s been saying this for quite some time,” Cyrier told KXAN.
TCOLE’s director, Kim Vickers, acknowledged his office wasn’t aware the law required TCOLE to collect the comparative analyses. A 2009 enhancement in the state’s racial profiling law required TCOLE to collect the comparative analyses and gave TCOLE authority to enforce it.
In December 2019, TCOLE released 136 pages of records to KXAN in response to an open records request seeking copies of any comparative analysis submitted to TCOLE. The agency confirmed to KXAN last week it had not “been mandating” law enforcement agencies submit the analyses, although the law has required it for more than a decade.
TCOLE completed its self-evaluation report and turned it into the Sunset Advisory Commission in September 2019, detailing what the agency found to be its most pressing problems. Of the six “major issues” identified by TCOLE, none of them dealt with its failure to enforce the state’s racial profiling reporting law.
A report published by Sunset staff in November 2020 referred to TCOLE as “toothless” in its regulation of law enforcement and its oversight authority when it comes to sanctioning peace officer license holders. However, the same report stated TCOLE isn’t toothless when it comes to its ability to enforce Texas’ racial profiling law.
“TCOLE is only authorized to issue administrative sanctions for noncompliance in a few narrow circumstances, such as failing to submit a report on racial profiling,” the November 2020 staff report shows.
“If it is failure to act, how do you fix that?” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Cyrier.
“Through this process (Sunset). And, no, it’s definitely a failure to act and they weren’t doing the responsibilities the legislature told them to do and what was in the best interest of all Texans,” Cyrier said.
“Obviously, this will be a big part of it, racial profiling. The lack of oversight from TCOLE, but again, it’s one of many areas that we’re seeing that needs to be fixed,” Cyrier said.
Vickers argued the reason TCOLE has not strictly enforced the racial profiling law is because the agency wanted to “be fair” to smaller law enforcement agencies who might lack the ability to perform analyses of their own racial profiling data.
“Are we the regulatory agency? You bet. Can I hammer people that are put in that position because they didn’t comply with this? Yeah, I could. Is that the right thing to do? Is it fair, and right?” Vickers asked.
“We need to be more diligent on that. You have really made me look at that — we need to be more diligent and we will look at that,” Vickers told KXAN.
The day after our interview with Vickers in December, he sent every law enforcement agency an email telling those agencies the analysis for 2020 is required to be submitted to TCOLE by March 1. The language in Vickers’ email has been posted on the TCOLE site since 2019 and has been part of the racial profiling law since 2009.
The result of the Sunset process is to produce legislation aimed at correcting problems identified in the staff reports. Cyrier said he is the lawmaker who will introduce and work to pass new TCOLE legislation this session. Racial profiling would now be included in that discussion, he said.
“It’s no question in anybody’s mind that it’s broken, and we need to do a complete overhaul of our law enforcement in the state of Texas,” Cyrier told KXAN.
Budget Plan Progress
The Texas House and Senate have released their base budgets for the 2022-23 biennium. The base budget is a proposal and outlines recommendations for how funds should be allocated during that time period for the state of Texas.
The House’s base budget recommends allocating $119.7 billion in general revenue, which is a decrease of 3% when adjusted for population and inflation. But the plan calls for spending more than $7 billion above the general revenue estimate provided to lawmakers by State Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
The base budget focuses on maintaining House Bill 3, which was passed last session and reformed school finance. The Foundation School Program is recommended to receive $53 billion in all funds and $41.2 billion in general revenue, an increase of $3.8 billion.
Another $3.1 billion in general revenue is recommended to help fund enrollment growth for schools, and $992 million in general revenue is recommended to be allocated for tax compression. To replace the one-time CARES Act funding provided last year, $1.1 billion in general revenue is recommended.
The Teacher Retirement System is recommended to receive $5.9 billion.
The Texas Medicaid Program is recommended to get $74.2 billion, which includes $27.4 billion for general revenue and $920 million for projected caseload growth.
Meanwhile, $3.3 billion is slated for behavioral and mental health services — an increase of $26 million.
Border security is recommended to be maintained with $800 million in general revenue.
None of the funds tap into Texas’ Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the “Rainy Day Fund.”
The Senate’s base budget prioritizes education, transportation and mental health services.
Overall, its base budget sets aside $251.2 billion in all funds and $119.7 billion in general revenue.
Funding for the Foundation School Program is included, with $3.1 billion going toward enrollment growth for public education, and $1 billion for property tax compression. Another $5 billion is recommended for payroll growth and reforms to the Teacher Retirement System.
Higher education is also recommended to get $8.1 billion.
A combined $8 billion will be used for mental health services in 24 state agencies, including the the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, which is slated to have an increase of $19.5 million in funds.
More than $1 million would be set aside to create a peer-to-peer counseling network and increase access to mental health providers for Texas law enforcement. Another $145 million will go to continuing community mental health grant programs, and $352.6 million is set aside for women’s health programs.
Going along with women’s health, $7 million is recommended to maintain funding for Maternal Mortality and Morbidity safety initiatives.
For the Texas Department of Transportation, the Senate recommends $30.4 billion, which includes $26.4 billion for highway planning, design, construction and maintenance.
The Senate’s base budget also includes appropriations for safety at the Texas Capitol — $39.1 million will help with additional trooper staffing and more security measures.
Additionally, $1.3 million is set aside for maintenance on the Texas Election Administration Management System, which manages voter registrations in Texas.