'Sandra Bland Act' Would Rewrite Relationship Between Texas Police and Citizens

The 'Sandra Bland Act,' introduced on Thursday in the Texas Legislature, would basically alter the relationship between police and the public at a time of rising tensions involving police work, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports .

The huge, 55 page bill, introduced by State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), wouls expand the standards for what is determined to be improper racial or ethnic profiling, allow greater access to mental health treatment by jail inmates, and address the problem of people who have never been convicted of a crime sitting in jail for months or even years.

Coleman says one of the key portions of the bill is 'additional police de-escalation training.

'"Each peace office has been trained for 16 hours of de-escalation training," Coleman said.  "This bill requires that number go up to 40 hours."

The bill is named after the 28 year old Prairie View A&M employee who killed herself in the Waller County Jail in the summer of 2015, after she was pulled over by a DPS trooper for a lane change violation.  The two had a videotaped confrontation on the side of the road.

"The people of the state of Texas have not forgotten about Sandra Bland," Coleman said.  "This bill will make it safer for everyone, be it law enforcement, the citizens of Texas, and people in jail for mental illness."

The bill outlaws what are called 'pretext stops,' where an officer discovers a minor equipment malfunction or driving misstep and uses it as a 'pretext' to pull over a vehicle to search for drugs or evidence of other crimes.  

Groups like Black Lives Matter say 'pretext stops' are one of the biggest issues affecting minority communities.

"You look suspicious,  you're dressed a certain way, you shouldn't be driving that car, this kind of thing happens every day," Houston BLM President Ashton Woods said.

The bill also calls for increased standards at county jails, mandating that both physical and mental health facilities by available around the clock at all county jails.Coleman's bill also called for a major change in the state's broken bail system.  A new study shows more than two thirds of inmates in Texas county jails are in jail not because they have been convicted of a crime, but because they are unable to make bail, or bail has not been set.  That was the case with Bland.

The law would require that magistrates release non violent offenders, especially first time offenders, on personal bond, unless the magistrate could fine a 'reason to believe' that the person would flee or would commit more violent crimes.

Police officers would also be required to make a 'good faith effort' to find treatment for troubled individuals who are pulled over during traffic stops or otherwise arrested, especially if the offense is a non violent misdemeanor.

Officers would also be prohibited under any circumstance from arresting a person for a 'fine only' misdemeanor.

It would also create an independent, non law enforcement connected 'ombudsman's office' to investigate complaints filed by adults apprehended or incarcerated by Texas police, and would be empowered to investigate all facets of the law.

Coleman concedes he has yet to find a Senate sponsor of the bill, and some law enforment groups have already begun raising questions about it.

Photo: Getty Images

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