Texas Legislature addresses missing reports

On a long day filled with emotional debate over bathroom access and property taxes, there wasn’t much fuss over a Texas lawmaker’s bill that would hold law enforcement agencies accountable for not properly reporting officer-involved shootings to the state.

Under the pink dome early Tuesday morning, Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, presented HB 245, which would add teeth to the reporting requirement. He told the House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee the bill would better ensure the Texas Attorney General’s office data on officer-involved shootings is complete.

Watch: House committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety testimony on HB 245 (starts at 1:07)

“We’re actually very close,” Johnson said. He then told his peers that now, media is the only way to tell whether the one-page reports are being filed when officers shoot someone and are shot.

The reports must be filed within 30 days of a shooting under legislation Johnson shepherded through the Texas legislature in 2015.

But last month, Point of Impact exclusively reported that a dozen fatal shooting reports were missing from the AG’s database. The stories ran in the Austin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle, and were also the subject of a Texas Standard Q&A. The Associated Press also wrote about the missing reports Point of Impact unearthed.

In follow-up stories in Austin and Houston, I reported that after I’d contacted all of the departments, 10 had filed their reports. Since then, the remaining two other reports have also been filed.

Johnson’s bill would give notice to the departments who didn’t file their reports in time and instruct them to file within seven days, or face a $1,000 fine. The finding of a violation would still depend on someone noticing the report was missing and notifying the AG’s office. It would also remove a requirement in current law for agencies to post the reports on their websites “since no one’s really complying” anyway, Johnson said.

“This is the next step in a progression to transparency,” said University of Houston associate professor Kevin Buckler at the hearing. He added that the bill would “reinforce a commitment to the law.”

Kathy Mitchell of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition also testified in support of the bill, saying, “We’ve learned many critical things we didn’t know before” from the reports.

Each February, the AG’s office releases a summary of shootings in Texas based on the reports. Personally, I hope that lawmakers will consider amending the annual reports (here and here) to capture reports that were belatedly filed.

Committee chair Rep. Phil King said there were others who registered their support or opposition but didn’t wish to testify. The bill was left pending in committee.

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