March 02, 2017

#TxLege: Yes to modernizing police shootings reports and state legal database

Royce West rightly got Texas law enforcement agencies into an era of more accountability with annual racial breakdown of police traffic stops.

Since then, from 2015, Texas has required a report of officer-involved shootings.

Problem is that there's no enforcement teeth.

Well, State Rep. Eric Johnson wants to both modify that, and update the reporting mechanism. Rather than a one-page report sent to the state AG's office, with those reports then posted as PDFs, he wants a user-friendly web portal.

Agreed, and let's go one further. Not just with officer-involved shootings, but with any legal investigation of a police officer, let's get it posted this way.

Meanwhile, county and district clerks, per this story, continue to fight against a statewide, state-run, database of their records. They cite two issues: privacy, and money for their offices.

They're right that the legislation requiring e-filing didn't stipulate this was toward the end of a state database. But, it didn't prohibit such an idea, either.

So, let's take a look at the privacy issues.

First, a private company is already processing the e-files. That's going to be an issue whether or not said files become part of a state database. So, that concern is overblown.

The money? Not sure about district clerks, but right now, county clerks are making a killing at a buck a page for documents.

Dirty secret? The ebil (for Texas wingnuts) U.S. government does this all much better. The Department of Justice's PACER system lets you get all civil, criminal and bankruptcy legal filings from all federal courts below the Supreme Court level — for just 10 cents a page.

(And, it's well-organized, too. You enter a credit card number at the time of creating an account, and are auto-billed on a monthly basis.)

So, yes to the state taking over a legal database.

But, no to it charging anything more than a dime a page. And, any bill in the current session of the Lege formally setting up a database also needs to formally set up a stipulated charge of no more than a dime a page.

At the same time, the Lege should split that dime a page, by page, with the county clerk's office of counties, by county of document origin.

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