In the aftermath of several fatal police shootings of unarmed citizens, Texas lawmakers sought to pacify tensions between law enforcement and civilians. The state legislature brought civil rights groups and law enforcement organizations together to develop a solution: the Community Safety Education Act, which was signed into law last year.
The bill requires any student entering ninth grade in the 2018-2019 academic year and thereafter to participate in a class and watch a video instruction on how to interact properly with officers during traffic stops. Without a notation of attendance on their transcripts, seniors cannot receive diplomas.
State Sen. Royce West (D) led the charge, also requiring instruction for law enforcement officers and those joining the force, as well as students in driver-training and defensive-driving courses.
“I wanted to put something in place that would temper the expectations of police officers and citizens,” he told The Washington Post.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement produced the video, according to Gretchen Grigsby, director of the agency’s office of government relations, after collaborating with the Department of Licensing and Regulation and the State Board of Education.
Now considered mandatory curriculum, the Civilian Interaction Training Program aims to give its audiences — high school students, new drivers and police officers — a neutral understanding of one another’s points of view and responsibilities, she said. “The legislation was made to address the issue of trust.”
The 16-minute video, which went live in September, uses reenactments about the correct way to behave during a traffic stop and the wrong way to communicate with officers. The video lays out these guidelines:
- Officers don’t always have a clear view into your vehicle, so keep your hands visible.
- Don’t move around or reach for anything.
- Let the officer know you’re reaching into the console.
It also answers several common questions:
- Do I need to get out of the car?
- Can I say no if the officer asks to search me or my car?
- What if I didn’t do anything wrong?
Although West said that the bill received little if any pushback, it still has its critics.
Fatima Mann, founder and director of the Community Advocacy and Healing Project, is concerned that the policy does not adequately account for the “human component” of the people communicating.
Mann told The Post, “I could know what to say, how to say it, what tone to say it in, but we’re talking about ‘knowing rights’ as if everyone involved is a robot.”
She compared the video to a call-center script.
“Like you’re on the phone having an issue with a cable bill,” she said. “Where, no matter what happens, you’re supposed to read it.”
But a traffic stop or in-person interaction with a police officer is not the same.
“You have a person with a gun and a person who sees a gun. You have an officer who has experienced trauma on the job and a driver who has been traumatized by someone who looks like the officer. Whatever you watched in this 16-minute video doesn’t matter,” she said.
Other advocates have also questioned the law’s effectiveness and voiced concern over the video, calling it a one-sided practice.
West reiterated that “Senate Bill 30 is race-neutral. It applies to all persons,” he said, adding that he hopes to see fewer fatal interactions between civilians and law enforcement. “It serves like a lighthouse: We won’t know how many ships would have crashed, but we know that some ships did not.”