Texas Senate committee approves 3 bills to assist police officers

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday unanimously approved three bills intended to better protect and honor police officers in Texas.  Before the hearing, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appeared with committee Chair John Whitmire of Houston at a press conference to reiterate the Senate’s support for Texas police.  “Keeping those in law enforcement safe is the duty of all of us and something I know that all Texans desire,” said Patrick.

The committee heard and passed SB 12 by Dallas Senator Royce West, which would provide funds for the purchase of high-caliber resistant body armor for police officers.   In Dallas last July, several police officers were shot and wounded or killed by an assailant armed with a high-caliber rifle which was able to penetrate the normal bulletproof vests officers wear on a day-to-day basis.  Dallas Police Association Vice President Frederick Frazier told the committee that what police officers are issued today isn’t keeping up with armed criminals.  “The armor I got out of the academy in 1995 is the same that the officers are wearing today,” he testified.  “We’re not seeing the same guns on the street, we’re seeing a lot of high power rifles, and they go right through our vests that we’re wearing right now. ”

West’s bill would create a grant program which would permit police departments to apply for grants to pay for the purchase of these vests.  Body armor must meet National Institute of Justice standards for high-caliber protection.   Twenty-five million dollars for this program has already been set aside in the Senate’s version of the state budget.  “Senate Bill 12 sends a strong message in support of public safety, and puts another tool in the toolbox of men and women in law enforcement who lay their lives on the line each and every day,” West told his colleagues.

The second measure, SB 1138 by Whitmire, would create a “Blue Alert” system to notify the public when there is a person at large who is suspected of attacking police.  Similar to the Amber Alert system for missing children or Silver Alert for the elderly, this system would warn other police departments, the press and regular citizens to be aware that a person suspected of  killing or causing serious injury to a police office is at large.  Whitmire said that the public will receive these alerts on their cell phones, similar to existing alert programs.  This program has already been under operation by the Office of the Governor for a number of years, but according to Whitmire, placing the program in statute will make certain it’s “everlasting”.  Under the bill, the Department of Public Safety will be the new operator of the Blue Alert system.

The final bill approved by the committee Wednesday, SB 798, would make each July 7 “Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day” in Texas.   Author Senator Don Huffines of Dallas said the state should honor the nearly 2000 law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.  “The bravery shown by these individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect other Texans certainly deserves to be honored,” he said.

Next Monday will mark the end of the 60 day constitutional prohibition on consideration of non-emergency legislation, and Patrick said that the Senate will open by passing these three bills.   “I want to make the first day law enforcement day,” he said at the pre-hearing press conference.  “They will be the only bills we take up on Monday, because we want all the focus to be on the men and women that protect us, and we want them to know they have our full bi-partisan support.”  All three bills have more than 27 members of the Senate as co-authors, all but ensuring their speedy passage next week.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 7 at 12 p.m.

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