Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Attorney General makes scant improvements to officer-involved shooting law

Last Thursday, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) published in the Texas Registry its final rule and reporting form for administering the officer-involved shooting law passed last legislative session. The rule was unchanged from the rule proposed in December, but the form the rule incorporates had slight changes, as did the layout of the website where the incident reports are posted. Ultimately, the OAG missed an opportunity to meaningfully improve data collection under the new law.

After the rule and form were proposed in the Texas Registry back in December, Representative Eric Johnson (author of the bill), the Austin Justice Coalition, and I (Amanda Woog) submitted public comment with recommendations on how to amend the rules and reporting forms to better administer the law. We identified problems with the way the reporting forms were drafted, being used, and posted online, and recommended solutions within the bounds of the statute and the administrative authority of the OAG.  While the OAG did address some of the identified problems, most of the recommendations were not incorporated.

To address the problem that there is no way to monitor when the form was submitted to the OAG and when the OAG posted the form to its website (events that are governed by specific time periods in the statute), the OAG added a space on the reporting form for when the report was received by the OAG, and is now tracking on its website when the report was posted to the OAG website.

To address the problem that law enforcement agencies are submitting multiple forms to reflect single incidents in which multiple officers fired their weapons, creating the appearance of duplicate reporting, the OAG added a space to report the time of the incident.  The idea is that a person looking at the reports will know multiple reports refer to the same incident if the date, time, location, and decedent/injured characteristics are all the same.  But this does not actually solve the problem - it just creates one more field for a person to check if they're trying to make an educated guess as to whether two (or more) reports refer to the same incident.  It's still a guess.  And there's still the possibility that two different people of the same age, race/ethnicity and gender were shot in the same location at the same time.  I'm recalling incidents in Houston where multiple young black men in their 20s were shot by HPD in the same incident.  Those reports are hardly distinguishable, and it takes judgment and research to parse them.

The OAG's own annual report demonstrated the risk of filing multiple reports to reflect single incidents. The report overstated the number of people killed by police in Texas – the OAG recorded 29, while the correct number is 24. The mistake was in all likelihood due to multiple reports having been filed when multiple officers (frequently from different agencies) fired their weapons and injured or killed a single person.

Further, that the OAG made no changes to the proposed rule but did change the form it incorporates demonstrates another problem - that the OAG could change the form without going through the rulemaking process.  The rule does not create the form or lay out its substantive requirements; it merely incorporates forms hosted outside of the rules, which could be changed at any time.

In any event, the next round of improvements to the new law will likely have to come from the Legislature.  Looking ahead to next session and how we can better administer the law and improve data collection, legislators should consider the following amendments:
  • Require the OAG to create a supplemental form to be used in incidents where more than one officer was involved.
  • Require the OAG to create an online searchable database of officer-involved shooting incidents (right now, the reports are only available in PDF form on the OAG website).
  • Require the OAG to include in their annual report information on incidents that were reported late to the OAG.
  • Amend the form to include a space for a deadly weapon description.

This post has been edited to reflect the changes in the reporting form and the OAG's website that have been implemented.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Presumably the AG is busy protecting us from crazed perverts in women's restrooms. Clearly more important than officer involved shootings.