Teaching teens about police contact before confrontation
(Texas) The growing unrest over citizens being killed by police officers has frustrated policy makers looking for solutions. But one Texas lawmaker has proposed a practical first step–teaching ninth graders how to interact with law enforcement.
Under a bill introduced last month by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, students would learn their rights if they are stopped for a traffic violation or detained, as well as the rights of police. The course will be required in order to graduate from high school. Some advocacy organizations question what such a class would do to address the broader problems that contribute to the current concern.
“It’s a good practice for folks to know how to deal with police officers and be respectful, but I think it oversimplifies the real problems that exist and the real interactions between police and certain communities every day that are often based on a lot of frustration,” Diallo Brooks, director of public engagement for People for the American Way, said in an interview.
“I think there’s a larger societal issue and it’s not just about ninth graders in school learning how to deal with police officers–it’s about what we think of policing as it relates particularly to communities of color and how that’s exacerbated in some situations by very racially biased perceptions of those communities,” Brooks said.
Most criminologists agree that statistics collected from law enforcement sources are incomplete when it comes to police-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice reported a year ago that between 2003 and 2009 there were 4,813 arrest-related deaths–but they noted that variation in state criteria likely resulted in an under-count even though the total includes suicide of persons in custody and jail-house deaths related to intoxication or natural causes.
Still, the headlines just this summer capture the nation’s growing anxiety over police-related killings–including recent incidents in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina that have sparked protests in major cities and further stoked the debate over criminal justice and police procedure changes across the country.
Whitmire’s proposal is part of an overall legislative effort to address issues relating to police and community relations. Within the last couple of years, Texas lawmakers have worked to improve reporting on police shootings, increase training focused on de-escalation practices, and purchase dashboard and body cameras.
At a Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting last week, Whitmire said students must be aware that they should not stand their ground on the street if they “run across an out of control or rude officer,” but rather, that there are proper channels to report the incident after the fact.
Under the bill–which is set to be officially introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January–the State Board of Education will establish the curriculum guidelines for ninth graders to learn about Teaching teens about police contact before confrontation :: SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet: