’I truly believe there’s an appetite for change,’ says lawmaker on police reform bills headed to Austin

The 87th legislative session begins January 12 and ends May 31, 2021

SAN ANTONIO – Doing something to change the current status quo on law enforcement actions across the state is personal for Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

“I worry every day that my kids, my children are not killed just because the police stops them and they recognize they are Black,” she said.

The representative from Houston has a compilation of bills she’s introducing during the upcoming 87th legislative session that deals with police reform, called the George Floyd Act.

“The George Floyd Act is something that has been around for a long time, not by name, but definitely by the various bills that I have been following, along with other colleagues,” she said.

It’s bills dealing with excessive police force, chokeholds, revising qualified immunity, police identifying themselves, and arrests involving minor offenses, and an officer’s discipline records. It’s about upgrading old laws to current times.

She says, “We’re making sure we upgrade. Times have changed, we don’t need to put people in jail because they can’t pay a $500 fine and keep them there for two weeks until they’re let out.”

She says it’s not bills against police, but rather ensuring that everyone who breaks the law is held to the same standard, including law enforcement.

“Am I against police officers? Absolutely not. They are one of the most vital institutions within our society and I believe that we should support them and do everything to help them to better perform their job,” Thompson said. “But when they break the law, they need to answer and be accountable, just like every citizen is supposed to answer and be accountable to when they break the law.”

The demands for change in San Antonio last summer will echo in Austin through several bills being prepared by a bipartisan committee, says Representative Debora Gervins-Hawkins.

“I truly believe there’s an appetite for change,” Gervin-Hawkins said.

She’s working with lawmakers, law enforcement and community leaders to come up with bills that will help bring the changes demanded by San Antonio voters.

She says the bills deal with the arbitration process to give the police chief more power to deal with bad officers. She’s also working on how to change the current 180-day deadline to deal with officer discipline.

Currently the city administrators can only act within 180 days of when the incident took place. The change she’s looking for will give the agency 180 days from when the police chief was made aware of the misconduct.

Her goal is to strengthen community police relations by ensuring officers who live in the city get extra points in the interview process.

“Right now, 53% of police officers do not live in the City of San Antonio. So many of them live in surrounding areas and surrounding communities,” she explained. Hiring people who live in our community bridge the connection; it makes them a part of the city they patrol. “What it does is bring people who are connected to the community a little closer and hopefully build stronger relationships.”

Her bills will likely be filed in about a month and a half. She says her job is not to take away from police but instead, to give.

“I’m not interested in defunding the police. What I’m interested in is how do we provide additional help and support to police officers that go out on calls to help someone that’s dealing with mental illness,” Gervin-Hawkins adds.

She senses there’s a desire in the air from both sides to make changes this time around.

“We cannot police ourselves out of crime,” she said. “Law enforcement alone can’t do it by themselves. They need the community. So we’ve got to rebuild that trust and those interactions.”

RELATED: Understand: How arbitration plays out for disciplined San Antonio police officers

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.