Ken Herman: Bill would teach kids how to talk to cops,
In Latin and in law it’s known as “in loco parentis.” It’s often a concept of last resort, one not pursued lightly because it runs counter to our better instincts. The literal translation is “in place of a parent.”
The best societies are built on the notion that parents — more than governments, more than judges — know what’s best for their children. It’s not always true. Schools are an “in loco parentis” situation, one that most of us agree on because most parents aren’t qualified to educate their children.
Senate Bill 30, approved this week by a Texas Senate committee and probably headed to the Senate floor soon, embraces “in loco parentis” on a very specific educational matter, one that most parents should be qualified to handle: the interaction of young people and cops during traffic stops, a common occurrence that always starts with some tension and sometimes ends with tragedy.
“Chairman Birdwell and I were just talking about how sad it is that we have to be having this conversation,” state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said, referring to state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, during a Tuesday committee hearing on the bill.
Moments earlier, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, talked about the bill and “the times we live in.”
There are lots of things in which the phrase “the times we live in” seems appropriate. Few are sadder than the topic that SB 30 seeks to address.
SB 30, which has bipartisan support, simply seeks to educate young people on how to interact with a cop by adding a section about that to the driver’s license manual and by teaching about it in our public schools.
And, acknowledging this is a two-sided problem, the bill also calls for requiring cops to complete a “civilian interaction training program.”
Before the Tuesday hearing at which the Senate Criminal Justice Committee sent SB 30 to the full Senate, an impressive and diverse group of supporters — lawmakers, law enforcers, community activists — gathered for a Capitol news conference. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, was there and called it one of the session’s most important bills.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the bill is “real simple.” The problem it addresses, of course, is not. Neither is the solution. The bill is the product of hours of discussions among diverse interest groups.
The details of the courses are to be determined, but we know in general what must be covered.
“Say that you end up having a disagreement with the law enforcement officer,” West said at the committee hearing. “Do you try to argue your case on the street or do you wait? Do you comply and then complain? And if you decide to complain, where do you complain?”
Many of us don’t need a course on that. Too many of us do.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, a bill sponsor, said the message is simple for anyone who thinks a cop is treating them unfairly, or worse: “You don’t try to settle it on the streets of Texas. You go to internal affairs, you go to your parents, you go to your minister and allow everyone to then deal respectfully with one another.”
Traffic stop rules and protocols change. Whitmire noted cops used to want you to get out of your car. Now they don’t, unless asked.
“I was blessed to have parents that taught me that,” Whitmire said of how to interact with police. “And I have mentors that taught me that. But unfortunately, a lot of young people, I think, are having to learn that for themselves (or) maybe learn from peers. And that’s not always the good instruction.”
I asked West what it means that SB 30 is needed.
“The reality is that we’ve had problems,” he said. “But the question is how do we find solutions to those problems.”
He’s correct. These are the times we live in, as Perry said. And it was clear Perry was concerned about — though not unsupportive of — the proposed solution.
Perry told West that “we continue to lay social problems, be it common sense or otherwise, at the feet of our public education system.” Perry said some things used to be common sense: “You typically don’t have a disagreement with someone wearing a gun and a badge in a disrespectful manner. But that’s not the days we live in today.”
All Perry was looking for — and he got it — was assurance from West that SB 30 wouldn’t require a full class in how to interact with cops. West said it would just be a module in a class.
Menéndez later pinpointed the problem: “Sometimes, young people don’t see law enforcement as peacekeepers, and we have got to do what we can to restore that relationship.”
James Nash, an African-American pastor from Houston, stood with SB 30 supporters at the press conference and committee hearing. He said some young people see cops as “the enemy.”
“For too long,” Nash said, “our youngsters have been told by others that we don’t have to respect police.”
Mull that for a moment. And consider that, although all police deserve respect, a few — a very few — forfeit it.
“We talk about bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community, which is very powerful,” Nash said. “We’ve got a march coming up this weekend. But what do we do after the marches? … How do we reach our young men who have been told that all police officers are bad?”
“Young people want to be respected,” the reverend said, “but they have to be taught how to respect law enforcement.”
This has become something that must be handled “in loco parentis.” SB 30 is a measure of the times we live in.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is a sponsor of SB 30, which tackles police interactions.