Today, across Texas and the United States of America, we celebrate Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. It is a day to honor the brave law enforcement officers who serve and protect our communities.
To many of us, they are our partners or spouses, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, or friends. They go out in the front lines every day to protect our communities, sacrificing their lives to keep our families safe.
Our law enforcement men and women risk their lives on a daily basis. There is no routine traffic stop or routine response to a call for help. We thank our officers for keeping us safe and patrolling our neighborhoods, streets, and highways day and night. We thank their families for the sacrifice they have to make and for their suffering, pain, and heartache when their loved one does not come home. Actions speak louder than words and this past session, the Texas Legislature kept its promise in ensuring law enforcement has the resources they need to do their jobs.
Funding to keep our communities safe and providing law enforcement with the tools and resources needed was one of our priorities this past session. The state budget included $22 million for DPS to equip their vehicles with bullet resistant windshields and $10 million for bullet resistant personal body armor. We appropriated $15 million for grants to local law enforcement agencies to establish a body-worn camera program. The budget also included $200,000 for the Peace Officer Mental Health Program; $15 million for border prosecution grants; $10.2 million in grants for local border security; and $7.9 million for the anti-gang activities, among others.
This past session the Legislature established COVID-19 as a presumptive illness for first responders who die from or are disabled by complications related to the virus. This will simplify the process of obtaining benefits, compensation, and assistance. The state also now requires that certain first responders be provided all employee benefits and compensation if they are ordered to quarantine or isolate due to a possible or known on-duty exposure to a communicable disease.
To prepare Texas peace officers for the incredible amount of responsibility and complexity that comes with their career, the state must provide robust and effective training and the resources necessary to adequately train new officers. H.B. 3712 requires the basic training course to include training on the prohibition against using certain neck restraints like chokeholds, an officer’s duty to intervene and stop or prevent another officer from using excessive force against a suspect, and an officer’s duty to request emergency medical services personnel and provide first aid or treatment in certain circumstances.
To protect both citizens and the law enforcement community, we passed S.B. 24 in response to the growing number unfit officers bouncing from one law enforcement agency to another following termination. This bill requires law enforcement agencies to review an applicant’s criminal history, personnel files, and prior conduct before hiring them. The hiring agency must then certify to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that it has reviewed the required materials. If a hiring agency fails to comply with these basic requirements, TCOLE will suspend the peace officer license of the head of the law enforcement agency.
Just as important, we focused on addressing the mental health needs of law enforcement officers. According to reports, there were 228 law enforcement officers who died by suicide in 2019, nearly double the number killed in the line of duty (132). That same year, there were 19 law enforcement suicides in Texas alone. This past session, I was pleased to co-author S.B. 64 which will create a voluntary peer-to-peer support network focused on training our officers to provide support to each other. I also supported S.B. 1359 which requires each law enforcement agency to develop and adopt a policy allowing the use of mental health leave for peace officers who experience a traumatic event while on the job.
Lastly, this past session I authored S.B. 1071 to provide totally disabled state peace officers with a monthly retirement payment based on today’s salary schedule. It is crucial that we take care of the peace officers who put their lives on the line for our families every day.
Join me on this Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, in thanking our law enforcement men and women for their service, dedication, and commitment to keep our communities and our families safe.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Hinojosa can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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