Ending reality cop shows in Texas and other police bills this session

by | Dec 8, 2020 | Criminal Justice, Policy

The first police-related bill filed for the upcoming Texas Legislature session is a bill to prohibit law enforcement departments from contracting with reality television crews.

The legislation is named after Javier Ambler, an Austin area postal worker who died of heart failure after being tased multiple times by Williamson County police during a 2019 arrest. 

The police killing of Ambler, including his pleading with officers that he could not breathe and had a heart condition, was filmed by “Live PD,” a police reality television program that has since been canceled. The tape never aired and was destroyed, but questions arose as to whether the presence of a camera crew caused officers to act more aggressively. 

That’s no coincidence considering violent interactions boost ratings and were really the only thing that made it to the air in shows like “Live PD” and “Cops” (which has also since been canceled). The contract themselves were also often purposely signed as a way to boost a police department’s public image after incidents that were heavily scrutinized, such as the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King and the department’s subsequent appearance on “Cops.”

The bill to end police contracts with reality shows, carried by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) in the state House and Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) in the Senate, is just one of the bills filed this session to respond to the growing demand for police reform. 

The most sweeping piece of legislation in that regard this session is the George Floyd Act, carried by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The bill would end qualified immunity for police, ban chokeholds, better define when and why officers can use nonlethal and deadly force, require de-escalation tactics from officers, and end the arrest of misdemeanor fine-only offenses. 

Others include… 

A bill by state Rep. Terry Meza (D-Irving) to limit when police can firing at a moving vehicle. Another bill by Meza banning the use of force that impedes a person’s breathing.

A bill by Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) to update the law concerning when and what authority an officer has to search someone’s car. 

A bill by Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) that requires police recruits to receive implicit bias training, and another bill by Collier that requires training for post-traumatic stress disorder or developmental disabilities. 

A bill by Gene Wu (D-Houston) requiring police to display their name and badge when on duty and creating a misdemeanor offense if they don’t. 

A bill by Harold Dutton (D-Houston) implementing more oversight for SWAT teams.

And a bill by state Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) requiring police to intervene when they see another officer using excessive force. 

Earlier in the year, Gov. Greg Abbott signaled his intent to act on police reform in the upcoming session. In June, he formed a legislative working group that included both Dutton and Collier — but all of this was before the politically charged issue of police funding during the November elections that saw the creation of his “Back the Blue” pledge. As of yet, it’s still very unclear which of these bills may ultimately end up on the governor’s desk. 

Photo: Jose Maria Hernandez/EyeEm via Getty Images 

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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