Monday, October 26, 2020

A chance to expand police oversight: Why Texas should begin charging cops and jailers licensure fees

Readers may recall Grits recommended over the summer that the agency licensing Texas peace officers, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), begin charging licensing fees to Texas cops and jailers. The idea was that they could use the "extra" money to expand their oversight role. 

But a new document from the Legislative Budget Board shows that TCOLE may need to begin charging licensure fees just to keep its funding at current levels. Here's why:

Since 2004, TCOLE has funded most of its activities using General Revenue–Dedicated Funds from Account No. 116, which is composed of consolidated court fees collected pursuant to the Texas Local Government Code, Section 133.102. Currently, multiple agencies spend funds from Account No. 116, including TCOLE, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, and the Department of Public Safety. In addition, employee benefits are paid from this fund. The amount of revenue collected has been decreasing for at least the past 15 fiscal years.

Check out this chart showing the rate at which this account has been outspending intake:

So the account balance is scheduled to drop below expenditures by the end of the next biennium, meaning TCOLE and other agencies funded by Account 116 must turn elsewhere for funding. Or as LBB put it, "Without replacement, the loss of this funding would halt the majority of TCOLE operations." In that light, for TCOLE, charging licensure fees makes loads of sense.

LBB suggested four options for raising revenue for Account 116, but none of them involved licensure fees. That's a mistake not even to consider it. The people who license doctors, lawyers, plumbers, etc., are all financed via licensing fees, why not police and jailers?

Grits wanted more money for the agency to facilitate more oversight and compliance functions. E.g., in FY 2019, LBB reported, TCOLE audited 770 agencies for "law and rule compliance" and found "deficiencies" in 349 of them. It's great that they're catching violations after the fact, but that's an awfully high rate of deficient audits.

Moreover, Texas is one of only a handful of states where the peace-officer licensing agency can't revoke licenses of officers for serious misconduct. Here, we require them to be convicted of a felony first, which almost never happens. But a decertification program would require resources, particularly for attorneys, and licensure fees are the most obvious way to pay for them. 

At the moment, TCOLE's budget runs around $4 million per year. Assuming a) a 95% payment rate, and b) licensure fee rates of $50/year for police, $40/year for 911 operators, and $30/year for jailers, Grits estimates about $4.9 million could be generated. One could fiddle with those fee amounts to adjust that figure up or down.

There are also nearly 3,000 agencies authorized to provide training who could also be asked to pay for the privilege. At $500 per year, ~$1.4 million could be generated from that cohort.

If Texas must begin charging licensing fees, anyway, it should do so at a level that lets the state expand oversight functions, not just keep up the status quo.

Related: See Grits' discussion of TCOLE's Sunset review.


Anonymous said...

I’m fine without them paying a licensing fee.

Sam said...

Something some might consider also interesting is state procurement procedures through contractors, vendors, HUBS, and other participants. Say TCOLE needs to purchase Sharpies, highlighters, USB thumb drives, etc. like all state agencies do. Because of strict procedures, you might have to purchase Sharpies and highlighters from say the Texas Lighthouse for the Blind at triple or quadruple the cost from an office supply store or Amazon. Multiple this by hundreds of thousands of state transactions and it might start sounding like real money. Competitive pricing and frugality go out the door. This could save TCOLE potentially a few hundred thousand dollars.

Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered and Uncensored Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

Grits, A point raised by you has often been a concern by which an authority prohibits the a licensing agency to revoke licenses of peace officers for serious misconduct, requiring a felony indictment and conviction. Which, as you said is a rare occurrence.
To my knowledge, a similar preference is not available to any-other profession. It would be appreciated if you would point me in the direction to review the policy or statute.

Sean said...

I'm fine with the training entities being charged a fee and I'm fine in principle with police officers paying a licensing fee. The wrinkle I see is that its likely that this fee just gets passed onto to the taxpayer with whatever governmental unit picking up the tab. Could they mandate at a state level that police would pay, do they have political will power, and can the police unions prevent it?

jD said...


TAC Title 37, Chapter 223, Rule 223.19, License Revocation, Subsections (a)-(g) require or authorize the revocation of a license issued by TCOLE. Those subsections read as follows (emphasis added):

(a) The license of a person convicted of a felony SHALL be immediately revoked.

(b) The license of a person convicted or placed on community supervision for an offense directly related to the duties and responsibilities of any related office held by that person MAY be revoked. In determining whether an offense directly relates to such office, the commission will consider:
(1) the nature and seriousness of the crime;
(2) the relationship of the crime to the purpose for requiring a license for such office;
(3) the extent to which a license might offer an opportunity to engage in further criminal activity of the same type as that in which the person previously had been involved; and
(4) the relationship of the crime to the ability, capacity, or fitness required to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of such office.

(c) The license of a person convicted or placed on community supervision for any offense involving family violence SHALL be revoked.

(d) The license of a person who is noncompliant for the third time in obtaining continuing education SHALL be revoked.

(e) The license of a person who has received a dishonorable or other discharge based on misconduct which bars future military service SHALL be revoked.

(f) The license of a person who has made, submitted, caused to be submitted, or filed a false or untruthful report to the commission MAY be revoked.

(g) The license of a person who has been found to be in unauthorized possession of any commission licensing examination or portion of a commission licensing examination, or a reasonable facsimile SHALL be revoked.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks jD. Community supervision still means they were convicted, but you're right that they could theoretically be decertified for family violence, false reports, or egregious training lapses/cheating. The bigger issue is whether they can revoke for egregious conduct that is not prosecuted but only a policy violation: E.g., a grand jury may decline to indict the cop who shoots somebody in a moving vehicle contrary to policy, but the licensing agency could still revoke them. That can't happen in Texas and is the big difference between us and states with a more robust decertification program. Also, they don't have staff to do more than the SHALLs on that list, and last I checked were backlogged on those.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Sean, they could say the officers are responsible for the fee, definitely. But the unions with collective bargaining would try to get cities to pay for it through their contracts, and some would. (Just like counties pay dues to TDCAA for all the ADAs in the District Attorney offices.) End of the day, somebody has to pay and policing is a core government function.

Lee said...


I prefer the idea of requiring all police officers to carry malpractice insurance in the same way that physicians and attorneys are required to do. The insurance companies and their financial controls may be able to accomplish what up to this point the system has failed to do. Just like with risky drivers, risky cops will either be paying higher premiums or be forced off the road into another occupation. Up to this point the taxpayer or qualified immunity has been the misused and abused insurance policy that has enabled police misconduct as opposed to eliminating it. If we take the protections away from law enforcement that we do not provide for other occupations and let the police weather the same stresses of risk management that insurance companies deal on the civilian, maybe we can change the law enforcement for the better and the bad apples will float to the top of the barrel and be more easily removed.

Anonymous said...

Cops already pay licensing fees, its just that they are one-time fees at each level of licensure or proficiency certificate and not annually re-occurring. They are often, but not always, paid by their employing agency.

Most County and Municipal officers (not just cops) are already insured at certain levels through reinsurance through the various state-level city or county groups like TML or Texas Association of Counties. Most government employees and employers only have civil liability for car wrecks and federal civil rights cases, anyhow, so insurance for anything outside of that would be unnecessary and wasteful.

Sam said...

Thanks anonymous 7:26PM, I see Grits position greatly deflated.

Anonymous said...

I pay licensing fees every year for my job, do you think if I call my licensing authority and tell them it's "unnecessary and wasteful" I can get my fees waved? Or that my employer who can only legally employ licensed people like me would foot the bill?

Cops need to work like the rest of us and be held accountable like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Extra insurance is "unnecessary and wasteful" because they already have it or it isn't needed.

Licensing and certification fees for cops already happen, they are just one time fees and not re-occurring.

Gunny Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered and Uncensored Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

My thanks and appreciation for the invaluable supporting information provided in response to my request of 10.27.20 @ 09.14.00 A.M.

10/30/2020 09:00:00 AM Delete

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:26, insurance won't bolster the licensing agency.