Starting with the 2018-19 freshman high school class in Texas, teens must complete instruction on how to interact with law enforcement during traffic stops in order to get their diploma.
The legislation, the “Community Safety Education Act”, was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June of 2017.
With the deadline to start instruction for students rolling out this fall, school districts around the state were searching for curriculum, but help has been provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) which has produced materials, including a 16-minute video on the “do’s and don’t’s” when it comes to interacting with law enforcement during traffic stops.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics the most common reason for contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop and Stanford’s Open Policing Project estimates that there are 20 million traffic stops each year in America. These interactions can lead to deadly consequences such as the Sandra Bland traffic stop in Texas in 2015 which led to her arrest and subsequent death in a jail cell. In essence, the new Act will ensure teens avoid arrest and a juvenile record by knowing how to conduct themselves when approached by law enforcement.
“The goal of the act was to define the behavior expectations of citizens and law enforcement during traffic interactions,” Dallas area state senator Royce West, author of the legislation, says in the video.
The legislation calls not just for teens to be taught good and bad habits when it comes to traffic stops but requires new drivers and law enforcement also receive instruction.
Texas law enforcement officers must complete training mandated by the law by January 2020 or withing two years of their licensure date. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement estimates that 350 officers statewide had undergone the training.
For new drivers, suggested actions during traffic stops has been added by the Texas Department of Public Safety in the latest Texas Driver Handbook. The handbook now includes a section informing drivers they can ask to leave if they’re being held at a traffic stop for an extended period of time and they can decline consent search requests if there is no probable cause.
Consent search vs. probable cause search is also broached in the video which features teen actors and law enforcement role playing in traffic stops done the right way and the wrong way.
Among the tips to teens in the video: drivers should pull over to a safe place, put the vehicle in park and turn off the engine, roll down their widow and keep both hands on the wheel.
TEA’s written curriculum sent to school districts includes four sections: proper behavior during an interaction, citizen rights, duties of officers and filing a compliment or complaint.