Following a summer in which the hanging death of a woman in a Waller County jail and the killing of a Harris County sheriff’s deputy at a gas station put Texas' criminal justice system under a microscope, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked state senators Friday to study police safety and jail safety issues ahead of the 2017 legislative session.
The requests were among more than a dozen interim charges Patrick issued on Friday, following a batch of charges released on Thursday that included politically charged issues like religious liberty, union dues and ethics.
Friday's charges were split between the Criminal Justice Committee and the Veterans Affairs and Military Installation Committee, and included several charges tied to illegal immigration directed at the latter's subcommittee on border security.
On police safety, Patrick asked the Criminal Justice Committee to make recommendations to "reduce the number of injuries and deaths to or by law enforcement officers," by reviewing police efforts to engage their local communities as well as assess the dangers to law enforcement officers. Regarding jails, the committee is tasked with reviewing current training and guidelines related to mental health, safety and "de-escalation," along with how medical resources such as substance use treatment are currently being used.
Those requests from Patrick come on top of an interim jail safety study committee he created in August after the death of Sandra Bland sparked outrage for what many saw as the latest high-profile case of police harassment of a black citizen. A Department of Public Safety trooper, Brian Encinia, was put on administrative leave after a dash cam video showed him threatening to use force on Bland after stopping her for a minor traffic infraction. Three days after the arrest, Bland was found hanged to death inside the county jail. In August, Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth, 47, was shot at a Houston gas station, prompting some local and state officials to suggest that anti-cop rhetoric was endangering law enforcement.
Patrick urged the Veterans Affairs committee to assess the progress made by state strike force teams to reduce the claims backlog and decrease wait times at VA hospitals.
Patrick also asked that panel's subcommittee on border security to review immigration issues following the Legislature's approval this year of an $800 million boost in border security spending. Patrick wants the three-member subcommittee chaired by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, to "identify areas where the state could invest to bolster local law enforcement infrastructure and activities," as well as analyze the policies held by sanctuary cities around the state and consider "possible solutions to discourage governmental entities from putting in place policies that conflict with immigration laws."
Patrick's other interim charges released Friday include requests related to the state's handling of criminal records, civil asset forfeiture and veteran hiring policies among state agencies.
"These important issues affect the safety and security of our state and every Texan," Patrick said. "I look forward to the policy recommendations generated by these charges."