The Texas State Board of Pharmacy, which licenses and disciplines pharmacists, has its own. So do the state Department of Insurance and the Board of Dental Examiners.The whole piece is full of interesting examples and well worth a read. The author hits on several of the issues I touched on five years ago providing testimony to the Legislature on this topic. Here were the main concerns raised in that testimony:
The Mackenzie Municipal Water Authority, which supplies water to four small Panhandle towns, has one, as does the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a private trade group. Concordia University Texas recently acquired its own.
Every organization that might conceivably come into contact with a scofflaw, it seems, wants its own police department. And in Texas, many get to have them.
"The joke at the Capitol," said Tom Gaylor, who lobbies for the Texas Municipal Police Association, which has opposed the proliferation of policing agencies, "is that it's often easier to identify those who aren't police officers."
In recent years, the peace officer designation has spread far beyond its original constitutional definition of constables, sheriffs, marshals and police officers. Since 1965, legislators have amended the state's Code of Criminal Procedure, which sets out who can designate their own police department, nearly 50 times.
The result: Today there are three dozen types of agencies, institutions, boards, commissions and political subdivisions that can appoint their own law enforcement agents. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, which licenses police officers, keeps tabs on 2,615 separate law enforcement agencies.
The proliferation of special police forces threatens to undermine the credibility of law enforcement, especially at smaller agencies, and has caused accountability for police officers generally to decline. Here are the main problems caused by this explosion of specialized agencies:Today, according to the Statesman, Texas has 75 more departments than it did when I wrote that five years ago. But are there enough quality officers and supervisors to go around? And if not, is it really wise to issue a weapon and police powers without stringent oversight?
1. Gypsy cops. Special forces create a problem with so-called "gypsy cops" where officers move from small agency to small agency, typically after misconduct or other problems that may indicate their unsuitability to wear a police uniform. Officers know if they misbehave and get fired they can just move on down the road. Tom Coleman, the undercover officer in the Tulia scandal, is the most famous example of a gypsy cop (which is law enforcement slang popularized by the Tulia case). Coleman's troubles at a prior agency came to a head in Tulia when a misdemeanor warrant was issued for his arrest while he was working undercover.
2. Resources: Smaller forces don't have sufficient resources for modern, high quality training or equipment for more specialized work involving special types of crimes.
3. Fragmentation: Having so many different agencies assures that information sharing will never be reliable, fragmenting potential for seamless intelligence gathering regarding criminal activity. After 9-11, the federal government changed its laws to allow federal agencies to share more information with law enforcement regarding terrorism, but this local fragmentation makes that goal unwieldy at best and unachievable at worst. Reporting, even for key statistics like arrests and prosecutions, is not consistent in Texas even among the 254 counties in the state, much less for the 2500+ separate little agencies around the state. The sheer number of distinct agencies makes monitoring compliance with reporting virtually impossible, which in turn means that this state does not have clear data upon which to base criminal justice policy.
4. Supervisor shortage: The pool of quality police supervisors in Texas simply is not deep enough to manage 2,540 different agencies. That means many of these special agencies are being led by managers who are frankly unqualified.
5. Qualifications not uniform: Having so many agencies means that a mind-boggling array of differing hiring, training and employment policies and practices from agency to agency muddy the public's ability to determine if an agency hires good officers or maintains high quality policies and practices in the department.
6. Equal protection: Non-civil service agencies in cities whose main police department is covered under the state civil service code can find themselves in a situation where different labor rules cover different law enforcement employees, even when they have the same employer. E.g., in Austin APD is covered under the civil service code, while the Parks police and Austin ISD police are not civil service agencies.
7. Too expensive: Having police in schools and parks is overkill, a more-expensive-than-necessary overreaction to security problems. Security guards equipped to call 911 if needed would be cheaper than commissioned Texas peace officers, and could handle virtually every situation that arises, especially in school scenarios. For parks police, police officers from the local PD could write necessary tickets.
8. Mission creep: In schools, officers presence has led to mission creep, where officers now teach DARE programs in schools as though they're a regular teacher. Studies show these programs are ineffective at preventing drug use, and using commissioned officers as teachers is much more expensive than paying teachers to handle the same classroom duties. Additionally, because they are so abundant police officers end up enforcing simple school rules that would be more appropriately handled by the principal.
9. Letting loose the dogs: Off-duty employment of officers is common, so even at the most marginal departments, officers will possess full-blown police powers 24-7, often exercised on Friday and Saturday night, for example, as bouncers at bars or in some other potentially problematic capacity. But it's likely that the level of supervision found at larger agencies, where some like Houston PD still have had problems, will be lower or non-existent at these tiny agencies no one pays attention to.
The issue of officer quality in these penny-ante departments was raised in dramatic fashion recently when one police officer with the Katy ISD police abducted another officer in the department and held her at gun point in an intense standoff with police last week before finally releasing her and committing suicide. That can't make parents in Katy confident that the school district is hiring quality officers.
Texas is a big place, but we don't need 2,615 law enforcement agencies by a longshot. I could see cutting that number in half without significantly harming public safety.