House advances bill to enforce shooting report requirement

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas

UPDATE: At 10:50 a.m. on Friday, HB 245 was finally passed out of the Texas House on a 112-21 vote. There was no discussion. The legislation now faces approval by the Senate, and then Gov. Greg Abbott, in order to become law.

ORIGINAL POST: Hours after it initially lost in the Texas House by one vote, lawmakers reconsidered and preliminarily passed legislation that would enforce the state’s unique requirement for officer-involved shooting reports.

House Bill 245 was passed on a voice vote Thursday morning and faces a final vote Friday. The proposal would give notice to law enforcement agencies that fail to file the one-page reports with Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office within 30 days of a shooting, and fine them $1,000 per day if the reports aren’t filed within seven days of getting notice. The bill’s author, Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, said he believes he has the votes to pass it.

“I’m proud that my House colleagues have once again shown their commitment to this important issue,” Johnson said.

Late Wednesday, the legislation was voted down by a lethargic, chaotic body on the heels of a lengthy and tedious discussion about trucking regulations. Johnson said when it came time for his bill, lawmakers “didn’t know what the bill did or that it was agreed upon, and it just got caught up in the wash.”

Wednesday night’s record vote on HB 245

Some may still oppose the bill because it fines departments – penalties owed to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund increase to $10,000 the day after receiving notice a second time in five years and $1,000 each day following. But Johnson was hopeful, since law enforcement and those who scrutinize law enforcement’s behavior are in favor of the legislation.

Texas Municipal Police Association Executive Director Kevin Lawrence said they were “absolutely supportive. Everybody should be required to play by the rules.”

The required reports collect demographic information about the people involved in the shooting; factual information like the address, date and time, severity of the shooting, and whether the person was armed; and a description of the original call.

An analysis of the reports has shown that in the 20 months from Sept. 2015 to May 2017, 302 individuals were shot – 141 fatally and 161 causing injuries – by Texas law enforcement. Fifty-three people who were shot were unarmed. Meanwhile, 50 law enforcement officers were shot while on-duty, 10 fatally and 40 causing injuries, based on the reports.

But the database is incomplete, as reporting for this series, Point of Impact, revealed earlier this year, and violators currently do not face punishments.

In February, this series reported that 12 fatal shootings of both officers and civilians were improperly reported. The Attorney General’s office confirmed that all 12 reports should have been filed, and they were within weeks, albeit too late to be included in the annual reports released in 2016 and 2017.

In committee, one person – San Antonio police Sgt. James Johnson – signed up in opposition but did not speak. Nor did he comment for a story.

Kevin Buckler, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston, was one of two people who testified in support of the bill at the March 14 hearing. Noting that the 2015 requirement was applauded for its push for transparency in police shootings, he called Johnson’s bill “simply the next step in progression to transparency reform.”

Join Point of Impact’s email list today at www.pointofimpacttx.com, and follow the series on Twitter @POI_TX. This project is sponsored by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. 

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