COLUMN: New training requirements for officers

Submitted photo.
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown.

Earlier this year, the 84th Legislature in Austin wrapped up its work, which included passing new laws and making changes to older ones. As a result, we as law enforcement personnel around the state are now familiarizing ourselves with these revisions to the Criminal Code through our required training programs.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you that knowing what these new laws entail isn’t a cut-and-dried process. Different courts will likely weigh in on some of the changes and new laws, while some of what’s been passed will need a state Attorney General’s opinion to clarify what the lawmakers’ intent was as to what they want enforced. All of that will be worked through, as it’s been worked through before.

In Texas, we have designated training cycles that span two years and we’ve just started a new cycle that began Sept. 1 and will continue through Aug. 31, 2017. Within those two years, all Texas peace officers are required to complete 40 hours of continuing education courses, including a Legislative Update class covering the 84th Texas Legislature and recent federal changes.

Every time the Legislature meets, lawmakers take a look at the training peace officers are required to have to get or maintain their licenses. Some of the training is incorporated into the basic police academy coursework or it may have to be taken within a year or two of licensing. Other training may be required to move up from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s basic certificate to an intermediate or advanced certificate.

In recent years, new requirements have been put into place involving classes on special investigative topics, cultural diversity and crisis intervention. Additional training requirements coming out of the 84th Legislature include a class on human trafficking taken within one year of licensing and a minimum four-hour canine encounters class that must be completed within two years of licensing if it wasn’t taught in the academy. Peace officers who are already licensed will be required to take the canine encounters course if they want to obtain a higher level of certificate with TCOLE.

Other training programs under development by TCOLE, the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council will provide information and techniques to assist police officers when they encounter people who’ve suffered a brain injury or trauma-affected veterans, as an example.

Basic police academy training will now include a course on interaction with deaf and hard of hearing drivers. Officers who’ve already obtained their license and hold a basic certificate with TCOLE will be required to take the course to move up to an intermediate certificate.

Lawmakers also took steps during their recent session to alleviate the shortage of peace officers in Texas by expanding the applicant pool to include highly qualified, experienced former peace officers. HB 872 sets out a process that permits a former officer to reactivate his or her license if the officer:

  • completed at least 10 years of full-time service as a peace officer in good standing before the break in employment
  • meets current licensing standards
  • successfully completes an online or in-person supplemental peace officer course of not more than 120 hours and other in-person training requirements of not more than 40 hours
  • passes a peace officer reactivation examination
  • pays any required fees

The above are just some of the highlights out of the first eight pages of TCOLE’s 49-page legislative summary we’re using in our Legislative Update class. I’ll cover some more of the changes and new laws in future columns.

Before I close this week, I want to ask everyone’s prayers for the family of Lt. Jason Westmoreland of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, who lost his fight with cancer Thursday evening. It’s with a sad and heavy heart that I say goodbye to my friend and my former Narcotics and CID partner. I will miss you, brother, and will always remember the times we had. Heaven has gained a good man. Rest, my friend, you fought the good fight.

Please, everyone, let’s keep our military and service personnel in our thoughts and prayers. We enjoy our rights and freedoms because of their service and safekeeping of our great nation. Y’all have a Blessed Week.

Johnny Brown has served as Sheriff of Ellis County since Jan. 1, 2009, and is a graduate of the National Sheriff’s Institute. He has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and holds a Master’s Peace Officer’s Certificate with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.