Senate Bill 2196 by Senator Tommy Williams (R–The Woodlands) would substantially erode local control of police departments. The bill would apply to a state, county, or municipal law enforcement agency but would not affect an agency covered by a collective bargaining or meet and confer agreement. For all other police departments, regardless of size, S.B. 2196 would have dramatic effects.

First, the bill would provide that a police chief may appoint only the number of “command staff” needed to “successfully administer” the department. It is not clear how that number would be determined or if it could be the subject of a court challenge.

Second, the bill would require each police department to adopt hiring, promotion, and disciplinary policies that include specific criteria laid out in the bill.

Third, a suspended or demoted police officer would have the right to appeal a suspension or demotion to a third party hearing examiner as described in Section 143.057 of the Local Government Code (fire/police civil service). Under the bill, the hearing examiner could not recommend a lesser penalty, but apparently could set the penalty aside entirely and reverse the chief’s decision.

Fourth, the bill would provide that any person who claims to be a victim of a violation of the bill’s provisions may bring a legal action for a declaratory judgment or an injunction, and the district or county attorney or the Texas attorney general may bring an action against the law enforcement agency.

S.B. 2196 would impose on virtually all police departments in the state practices and procedures that are similar or identical to the civil service provisions in Chapter 143 of the Local Government Code. Particularly troubling is the peace officer’s right to appeal to a third party hearing examiner, a process that has often produced shocking results for police administrators across the state.

Under current law, civil service can be adopted only in a city that has a population of at least 10,000, and only by a popular vote. (The legislature established these adoption procedures because many civil service provisions erode local control of police departments, and such a substantial change should be put to the voters.) S.B. 2196 would impose at least one significant civil service provision on every city, including those in which voters have rejected the adoption of civil service.

Any city that is troubled by the provisions of S.B. 2196 should express its concerns to its senators.

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Texas Municipal League.

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