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Texas Lawmakers Say Mike Ramos Act Would Address Inequities In Policing

Brenda Ramos, the mother of Mike Ramos, joined lawmakers Thursday as they announced a bill that would create uniform state laws surrounding the release of police bodycam footage, require de-escalation training and make it easier for officers accused of wrongdoing to be suspended.

The Mike Ramos Act, introduced by state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, joins the George Floyd Act in a slate of efforts by the Texas Legislature this session to address police violence and systemic racism.

Mike Ramos was fatally shot by Austin police officer Christopher Taylor during a confrontation last April. In bodycam video leading up to the shooting, officers pointed weapons at Ramos even as he appeared to comply with their commands.

Taylor was arrested on a first-degree murder charge Wednesday.

At a news conference Thursday, Brenda Ramos said the indictment was "good news," but "we still have a long way to go to achieve justice." She focused her comments primarily on her support for the legislation.

"It means everything to me that this law ... will train police to de-escalate, rather than escalate, like they did with my son," she said.

Much of the bill's proposals would not necessarily apply in the Ramos case: Austin already has policies requiring the release of bodycam footage and Austin police officers are required to undergo de-escalation training.

Eckhardt said the bill would provide a level playing field statewide, as many departments don't have those same internal policies on releasing footage and state law doesn't mandate de-escalation training.

"We must improve our system," she said. "We simply must. This is a baseline deliverable for good government — to have public safety that every citizen feels is providing safety to them, not just some."

The bill would more firmly cement training and use-of-force requirements for law enforcement agencies across the state. It would also allow the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to "suspend or revoke" a police officer's license if the officer was found to be a public danger because of misconduct or if they failed to comply with the agency's required training.

A state review of TCOLE last year found it wasn't able to effectively ensure police accountability, because it "cannot take action against a licensee for serious misconduct."

Eckhardt says the bill would change that.

"For police officers are simply not a right fit for that kind of work and are unable to de-escalate in those moments, we need to be able to remove them from law enforcement," she said.

The bill would also require TCOLE to include de-escalation tactics as a part of minimum training to be a licensed police officer, and require agencies to adopt a use-of-force policy that's in line with those of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national policing research nonprofit. PERF's guidelines prioritize de-escalation and have been adopted or supported by hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said this bill and the George Floyd Act would go a long way toward addressing inequities in policing seen by Black and Brown communities in Texas. The latter would ban chokeholds, end arrests for fine-only offenses and require officers to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.

"We've got to make sure we have some systemic change where African Americans and Latino kids are not gunned down," West said.

He said it's a "first step," though, and that law enforcement agencies and unions will likely not agree to the bills entirely. But he said he's spoken with Gov. Greg Abbott and that he believes the governor is ready to have "good-faith" discussions on policing in Texas this session.

"I think that we will be able to get a lot of the reforms that we are asking for," he said.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5