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Cities, Not Legislators, Proving Best Hope for Law Enforcement Transparency Reforms

Open Government advocates were hopeful that the 87th Texas Legislature would act to bring some much need transparency to Texas law enforcement operations, such as legislation to facilitate the release of information concerning “in custody” deaths, use of force reports, law enforcement disciplinary information, and access to body and dash camera video. 

Significant law enforcement transparency legislation such as HB 2383 by Texas House Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and its Senate companion bill, SB 975 by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, met stiff opposition, however, from police groups.

Neither bill has been afforded a committee hearing since the measures were filed in early March.

Open Government advocates are not hopeful that the bills or other law enforcement transparency measures will see passage this session.

HB 2901 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, a bill that would create a significant fine for failing to properly file an in-custody death report, did receive a hearing in late April, but remains in committee.  The Senate companion bill, SB 1472 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, remains unheard in its Senate committee.

Other bills allowing for more access to body camera video in select circumstances, have also stalled in committees.

Cities Reform Body Camera Policies
While the Legislature seems unwilling this session to increase Texas law enforcement transparency, a few of Texas’ largest cities have taken steps to increase accountability.

The City of Austin recently revised its body camera video release policy to allow for release of video in cases in which an officer’s interaction with the public turned violent or resulted in a fatality.

The move was widely praised by Open Government advocates.

Last week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the city was setting a 30-day deadline for the release of similar body camera video.

Transparency supporters hope these two cities’ experience will encourage other Texas cities to follow suit.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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