TCOLE launches disciplinary action against Texas police agencies over missed racial profiling deadline

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect a change in the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s violator database that showed the Texas Medical Center Police Department did not file its racial profiling reports by the deadline. TCOLE conducted an investigation after it released its list and found TMC did submit on time and removed the agency from its list of violators without any license action against the chief administrator.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Less than 12 hours before the midnight March 1 deadline, 104 police chiefs, sheriffs and constables were at risk of losing their peace officer licenses. Those chief administrators had hours to meet the reporting deadline or face violations of the Texas racial profiling law.

All 104 law enforcement officials faced a 90-day suspension of their peace officer license.

When midnight hit on March 1, just 15 agencies failed to file their racial profiling reports. When the Texas Commission On Law Enforcement’s Austin offices opened that morning, the commission started the process of holding those 15 administrators accountable.

“The law clearly states that if they do not submit it by midnight on March the first that we will take action,” TCOLE Executive Director Kim Vickers told KXAN.

This list of alleged violators provided by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shows 15 law enforcement agencies the commission identified as missing the midnight March 1, 2021 deadline to submit their 2020 racial profiling reports. (Source: Texas Commission on Law Enforcement)

“So, if it came in at two o’clock in the morning, which some of them did, five o’clock in the morning on the second, it wasn’t by the deadline, and by the law, that doesn’t matter. They still are going to be held accountable,” Vickers said.

TCOLE sent letters of reprimand to the Coke County Sheriff, Webb County Constable Precinct 2 Constable, Beverly Hills Police Chief and the Holiday Lakes Police Chief. The letters are a permanent record placed in each chief’s TCOLE file and subject to disclosure under the state’s open records act.

“Now, let’s not make light of that. It is a permanent reprimand that goes on their peace officer record that will never go away and which comes into place, especially if you’re a chief administrator and you try to go somewhere else and get a job as a chief; as the chief administrator you’re running for sheriff or running for constable, and you’ve got a reprimand from the regulatory agency that oversees your license on your record, it has a big effect,” Vickers said.

TCOLE also sent notices of violation and a warning of 90-day license suspensions to 11 other agencies that still have not reported anything to TCOLE.

Click the map to find every alleged violator of the state’s racial profiling law and the responses we’ve received from the accused chiefs, sheriffs and constables so far:

That list includes seven police chiefs, two sheriffs and two constables. The notice TCOLE sent on March 2 gives each of those administrators until April 9 to submit their racial profiling reports or the state will issue fines of $5,000 against the agency and move to suspend those chiefs’, sheriffs’ and constables’ peace officer licenses.

A suspension means they’d no longer be able to work as law enforcement officers during that time.  

“The suspension is horrible for them. I mean, it’s a killer for a lot of people, but don’t sell short the reprimand as well, because it means a lot on their record,” Vickers said.

If a Texas peace officer receives three reprimands, Vickers said state law would force TCOLE to revoke the license for life.

Major reporting change

Within a day of our interview with Vickers in December, he started the process of correcting the lack of oversight our “Failure to Report” investigation exposed.

Vickers sent a warning to every Texas chief, sheriff and constable notifying them of the March 1 deadline and the requirement to file both a comparative analysis and the traffic stop data by midnight on March 1. Vickers then sent certified letters to those agencies, formally notifying them of the requirements to file these reports and the consequences for violating the law.

The Texas racial profiling law requires every agency that conducts routine traffic stops to collect race, gender and ethnicity information from every traffic stop and report that information to the state annually.

The racial profiling law hit the books in 2001. In 2009, a new law passed that gave TCOLE exclusive authority to collect the traffic stop data and to punish police chiefs, sheriffs and constables who did not comply with the reporting law.

TCOLE Executive Director Kim Vickers provided this example of the formal notice of violation the commission sent to 11 of the 15 racial profiling reporting violators on March 2. The letter went to every agency that did not submit any of its racial profiling data or comparative analysis by midnight March 1, 2021. (Source: Texas Commission on Law Enforcement)

The law also requires every agency perform a comparative analysis of annual traffic stop data to population metrics within the agency’s jurisdiction. The law requires each agency file the analysis annually, along with the traffic stop data.

The statute allows TCOLE to discipline police chiefs and sheriffs for “knowingly” failing to report. That disciplinary action could result in the loss of their peace officer licenses. TCOLE can also seek fines against the noncompliant agency of up to $5,000.

Our investigation into TCOLE’s decade-long oversight of racial profiling reporting shows TCOLE never collected a single analysis from any law enforcement agency. We also uncovered 257 times since 2015 that law enforcement agencies in Texas did not file annual racial profiling data.

For the past 11 years, TCOLE did nothing to hold those police chiefs and sheriffs accountable. That changed following our investigation.

“We’re going to get better at doing our part of it. We’ve already improved a lot since this started, and we’ll get it done. We’re going to get it done,” Vickers told KXAN in a March 2 interview.

Following our investigation in January, Vickers vowed to not let what we found happen again. The agency admitted it wasn’t aware the law required TCOLE to collect the comparative analysis until our interview with the director in December.

In the past few months, TCOLE designed a portal on its website where agencies file their annual data. Before, those agencies could file their raw racial profiling data, and TCOLE considered those agencies to have complied with the law.

TCOLE Executive Director Kim Vickers has implemented multiple changes to the way TX law enforcement agencies report racial profiling data following our “Failure to Report” investigation that aired in January 2021. The new reporting processes forces every law enforcement agency in Texas to comply with the racial profiling reporting law and provides TCOLE a way to determine compliance in real time through the commission’s electronic reporting system.

Through an open records request filed with TCOLE, we found the commission did not have a single comparative analysis on file for any law enforcement agency in Texas.

After our investigation, TCOLE redesigned its reporting portal to ensure compliance with the analysis component of the reporting law.

“The way the reporting system is set up, it will not accept your numbers until the comparative analysis comes in. So, the thing that was the issue is the first thing that has to come in or the report is rejected. So, by creating the system that requires that comparative analysis to come in first then, we ensure that both components will come in,” Vickers said.

TCOLE’s leader believes the changes he’s made will ensure 100% compliance with the racial profiling law, and those who don’t comply will pay a price for breaking it.

“The racial profiling reporting is there for a reason. And the Legislature felt it was very important to know these numbers and these facts or they wouldn’t have made this a mandate,” Vickers told KXAN. “And it is a mandate, and we take the mandate seriously. I think they’re going to recognize how seriously we take it after this process, and we will continue to take it seriously and as I said before, I think pretty quickly you’ll see even these 16, we’ll go down to zero.”

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