Saturday, June 29, 2013

Perfumed perpetrator wouldn't get ticket under new Texas statute

Don't know how I missed this 2011 Austin story, but if you did too, check out this TV news report about a girl given a Class C misdemeanor ticket in school for allegedly disrupting class by wearing too much perfume. (Somebody posted the dated item on Reddit yesterday.) The alleged perpetrator was being bullied and used the perfume in response to taunts that she "smelled."

Seeing that story makes me happier than ever that the Texas Legislature this year approved Sen. John Whtimire's SB 1114. That bill prohibits giving Class C tickets to kids under 12. So the girl in the above news story couldn't get a ticket at all under the statute that goes into effect September 1st. After that, police cannot ticket children under 12 in Texas schools. For students 12 and above, all Class C charges must include "an offense report, a statement by a witness, and a statement by a victim. This would apply to offenses that were alleged to have occurred on school property or on a vehicle owned or operated by a county or school district. Prosecutors could not proceed in a trial unless the law enforcement officer met these requirements," according to the official digest (pdf) from the House Research Organization. Moreover, "The Education Code offenses of disruption of class and disruption of transportation would no longer apply to primary and secondary grade students enrolled in the school where the offense occurred." That's a big change.

There are other amendments to the code that should significantly reduce the number of Class C tickets written in schools:
Children accused of any class C misdemeanor (maximum fine of $500), other than a traffic offense, could be referred to a first - offender program before a complaint was filed with a criminal court. The cases of children who successfully completed first - offender programs for class C misdemeanors could not be referred to the court if certain conditions in current law were met.

SB 1114 would prohibit arrest warrants for persons with class C misdemeanors under the Education Code for an offense committed when the person was younger than 17 years old. School district peace officers no longer would be authorized to perform administrative duties for a school district but would be limited to their current authority to perform law enforcement duties.
Also, "Courts would be required to dismiss complaints or referrals for truancy made by a school district if they were not accompanied by currently required statements about whether truancy prevention measures were applied in the case and whether the student was eligible for special education services."

With any luck, thanks to SB 1114, we won't hear more horror stories like that terrible tale of the perfumed perpetrator in the coming school year. Whitmire's legislation has been mostly unheralded - even to some extent on this blog, which should have lauded it in this retrospective post - mainly because it was met with only tepid opposition from law enforcement and received broad, full-throated support from nearly everyone else, regardless of party or station. The media are drawn to a fight but here there was (mostly) sweeping consensus. Be that as it may, SB 1114 was one of the major accomplishments of the 83rd Texas Legislature. Of all the criminal-justice bills passed this year, arguably SB 1114 is the item legislators can point to that will affect the largest number of average, everyday families. It'll be fascinating to parse the data down the line to find out the effect both on ticket writing and the use of traditional school disciplinary methods outside the criminal justice system, which one hopes will be enhanced with the passage of this new law.


North Texas Cop said...

I’m a veteran police officer who follows many different blogs & websites from all corners of the political landscape. I especially like to compare the radically different opinions of ACLU-style liberals, Reagan Republicans, sovereign citizen types, Clinton Democrats, and Ron Paul Libertarians on subjects such as law enforcement, police officer behavior, acceptable levels of individual freedom, and recent acts by all three branches of government. A Venn diagram of the positions shared and separated among the different political platforms in Texas would probably look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

One thing that continues to stand out to me is the consistent position among the many different camps that uniformed police have overstepped their legitimate authority while working in schools. It’s apparent that most people are fine with police officers handling felonies or Class A misdemeanors on school grounds. It’s also clear they’re sick of cops writing tickets for Class C misdemeanors in schools, especially to 9 and 10 year olds. I feel the same way.

In some jurisdictions, school administrators are only too happy to have police handle what is essentially a disciplinary problem. Some schools appear to be using police as the ultimate “bogeyman” in order to gain compliance from kids. Meanwhile, some cops regard the issuance of tickets to kids in school as a standard, and largely meaningless, assembly-line process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The in-school issuance of Class C citations to children has done incredible harm to the image and reputation of law enforcement. Though there are countless success stories involving police in schools, the use of police officers to enforce scholastic discipline has led many young people and their parents to hate us. At the minimum, it has led many “Regular Joes” who might otherwise have been our supporters to lose all respect for us; eventually coming to regard us as foolish, bureaucratic automatons who cannot discern between legitimate criminal acts and childish misbehavior. When I weigh the long-term consequences of this new law, I cannot help but think it will go a long way towards reducing such resentment while improving our recruiting pool 10 to 15 years from now.

At least part of this new law appears to be a legislated version of the advice I got from an old FTO at my first police job. He said, "You can do pretty much whatever you want to do on this job but there's two things that will get you in trouble every single time and that's dogs and kids. No matter what happens, don't f&#k around with people's dogs or their kids because even when you're in the'll be in the wrong. If you want all the trouble you can handle, just get yourself into a situation with someone's dog or their kid. The best thing you can do when it comes to dogs and kids is to just leave them alone." I remember asking him, "Yeah but what if I'm in the right?" You answered, "I'm telling you, you cannot win. Somebody will always say that you were the one who was f&#king up and by the time they get done with you, you will be the bad matter what. Don't jack around with kids and dogs." I was sure he was wrong at the time. I thought he was just being cynical for the rookie. I learned the hard way that he was right and his words came back to haunt me. I have since repeatedly seen other police officers learn the same hard lesson many times over. He was 100% right then and the lesson holds true today both for individual cops and police departments.

Anonymous said...

Finally, a cop that friggin gets it.

You Sir / Mam, are our Hero and there's nothing you can say to take that away. We (kids included) need / want a hero cop in our early years in order to apreciate the good guys later and the sacrafices that goes with the job.

NOTE: despite being a decendant of a Texas Sheriff and a Texan with a tarnished name packing around a criminal record based on a verifable false arrest on a non existent OTW that was allowed to morph into a wrongful conviction via a needless plea bargain.
If you find yourself in need of blood, money or civil conversation all you have to do is log on.

Can't wait to shake your hand.

Anonymous said...

"Tepid Opposition"? your research is severely lacking. SB 1114 is the work product of TMPA. TMPA has been working on that bill since the 82nd. Check out the witness lists, look at the interim studies, look at the changes from the filed version. This bill was written with the input of over 50 ISD officers from districts all over Texas, all facilitated by TMPA. SB 1114 was never opposed by law enforcement at anytime or in any way, much less "Tepid..."

North Texas Cop said...

Scott and Anon5:23,

The House Research Organization bill analysis lists Lon Craft with TMPA as opposing SB1114. That's confusing because the TMPA offered public thanks and congratulations to Sen. Whitmire and Chairman Herrero on the passing of this law. Moreover, the TMPA's legislative updates page states they supported this bill:

Based on my LE experience & conversations with other police officers over the years, I'm confident that a significant percentage (if not the majority) of Texas cops support the underlying principles of SB1114.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

NTC, I saw the same thing as you in the HRO report, hence the "tepid opposition" comment. If that was inaccurate, I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

regarding the "tepid opposition" by TMPA in the HRO report; The opposition was to the House Companion, HB3057. SB 1114 was a sub and looked nothing like the originally filed house companion. Anyway, It is a good piece of legislation that will make noticeable and reasonable difference. Thanks for your reporting.