SAN ANTONIO – A legislative change is striving to restore trust in law enforcement across Texas.
Now a law as of September 1, Senate Bill 1445 aims to change how the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement is functioning moving forward, especially when it comes to discipline.
The hope is this will cut down on Texas’ wandering officer problem.
It’s an all too familiar issue around our area — an officer leaving one department under less than favorable circumstances and quickly joining a new one. They’re referred to as “wandering officers.”
“You’ve got local agencies that have their own policies and then really kind of barebones regulatory structure at the state level,” said Luis Soberon, a policy advisor with Texas 2036.
Texas 2036 is a state-level policy organization.
Soberon has been working to track the impact of wandering officers and how often it’s happening.
He and his team put together this presentation about its impact on Texas.
F-5 report of separation of licensee
When an officer leaves their agency, the chief of that agency fills out what is called an F-5.
They select either honorable, general, or dishonorable discharge, and the officer has a chance to appeal if they get a less-than-honorable discharge.
There’s a review process, and then another agency can hire that officer.
“If you’ve got a general discharge, maybe it’s a yellow light. Dishonorable discharge: it’s a red light to really do a thorough background check. Part of the problem is that the system wasn’t working well for a lot of reasons,” Soberon said.
A big reason is that agencies weren’t showing up to defend the discharge status.
Soberon’s data shows that 59% of officers were able to upgrade their discharge status in 2021 by default. That’s what happened in the case of former Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo.
Arredondo was given a “general” discharge when the school district fired him in August 2022.
Arredondo appealed and asked for an “honorable” discharge. By default, Arredondo won his appeal because the district missed its response deadline in February 2023.
Arredondo’s status has been changed for the final time after an additional hearing where Uvalde CISD insisted on the original discharge status of “general.”
“The Sunset Commission as recently as last year called our whole regulatory structure broken, ineffective, toothless in some respects,” Soberon said.
It’s part of the reason why lawmakers are working to change things moving forward with the passage of Senate Bill 1445.
“Any time an officer engages in misconduct, and it’s a sustained case of misconduct, the agency fines criminal or administrative misconduct,” he said.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, will then hold that data and share it with agencies before they hire an officer.
It’ll make the background checks for officers stricter.
“One of the things that Texans should have confidence in is that the men and women who are serving them aren’t bringing baggage from a prior law enforcement agency that we’re not having wandering officers serving in our communities,” Soberon said.
There are other robust changes for TCOLE with the passage of SB 1445, including new policies and procedures. Because of that, there is some leniency with the rollout of the law, as illustrated by Texas 2036.