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Legislators Discuss Possible Ninth-Grade Course On Police Interactions

Ryan E. Poppe

Reducing the number of deaths and injuries that happen during routine police stops is one of the policy discussions at the state capitol this week.  One of many possible solutions being discussed would be to create a ninth grade course that teaches students how to behave when stopped by police.

The chair of the state senate’s Criminal Justice committee, Houston Democrat John Whitmire says the course would also instruct students on what their rights are when they are stopped by a police officer.

“Citizens need to know what their due process is and what their responsibility is and we need to do a better job, starting with our young people of what their role is when they have an encounter with police officers," Whitmire says.

The hearing is one of many ahead of the 2017 legislative session that will focus on improving the relationship police officers and minority communities in Texas have following a number of police shootings across the country that have occurred during routine traffic stops.

Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, argues that it isn’t always the fault of a driver not knowing how to respond to an officer’s request during a traffic stop.

“At the end of the day we accept responsibility of each of our stops. If we are curt or surly or rude or if we violate rules, regulations or law then we take responsibility for and we will hold our people accountable and they know that very well," McCraw says.

While some testifying before state lawmakers see this type of high school course as condescending, others like Houston Pastor James Dixon see this dialog between minority communities and law enforcement as a positive change.

“It’s time we stop defending and being offended by the facts but now we have to go on offense to determine how we as a community bring solutions to the table?” Dixon asked.

Whitmire says the preliminary outline for the course would also include a section that educates students how to report an police officer for complaints ranging from police brutality to rudeness and proper process for what he says is not escalating tensions on the street.