AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of the largest police groups in Texas is launching a campaign ahead of what it describes as the “most significant public safety legislative session” in the history of the state.
The Texas Municipal Police Association launched a public information website on Friday, TexasPoliceFacts.com, to help shape the discussion about the future of law enforcement and policing before the legislative session begins on Jan. 12.
“We don’t deny that there’s bad policing that takes place, but that’s very often the result of a lack of resources, lack of trust, lack of supervision,” said TMPA Executive Director Kevin Lawrence. “We are in no way trying to say there are not things that need to be addressed.”
The death of George Floyd in May and how police responded to subsequent protests were catalysts to calls for criminal justice reform in Texas.
In September, TMPA placed billboards along I-35 that read “Enter at your own risk!” following the Austin City Council’s vote to cut $20 million from the police budget and transition $130 million in services away from police control.
Justin Berry, a local police officer and former candidate for Texas House, believes the focus needs to be on better training for officers and programs that keep criminals from reoffending.
“The reality is when you can bring everybody to the table and talk about your difference and what’s going on, I think that’s where we can really find realistic solutions,” Berry told KXAN.
State Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and leading voice on criminal justice reform, will again attempt to close the “dead suspect loophole,” which allowed the death of Javier Ambler in Austin to remain quiet for months.
Police unions fought Moody’s legislation that would have closed the loophole in 2019.
“Members of law enforcement need to be at the table as you’re working on these solutions,” Moody said. “The problem we ran into last session is you had a dishonest broker at the table.”
Moody believes there is a bipartisan opportunity to create statewide standards for use of force, but that all sides have to be open to change. The proposed George Floyd Act would ban police across the state from using chokeholds and would require officers to step in when they witness excessive use of force.
Republicans will maintain control of all levels of power this legislative session, including the House, Senate and Governor’s Mansion.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said future legislation could place the Austin Police Department under the control of the Texas Department of Public Safety, while additional bills would financially punish local governments that “defund the police.”
KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full reporter at 6 p.m.