Lawmakers Make Moves on Bills to Help Police Officer Shortage

NBC Universal, Inc.

Like the rest of the country, Texas is experiencing a shortage of police officers.

It's gotten so bad, state troopers are even helping Austin Police Department with city patrols this week while the force focuses on staffing a massive music event.

Departments report that it's harder to recruit and retain as people retire, switch careers, or move between higher-paying jobs.

But lawmakers in Austin are making moves on new legislation to help.

Police chiefs from the biggest cities in DFW came together on Friday at Dallas Police headquarters to announce progress on their fight for the same cause.

"Turning away one person is too many,” said Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes during the press conference.

They are turning to House Bill 1076 for relief. It was filed by State Representative Victoria Neave Criado, who represents parts of Dallas, Mesquite, and Garland.

It would allow legal permanent residents to apply for police officer jobs in Texas.

"If legal permanent residents can serve in the U.S. military and protect, serve and die for our country, they also should have the right to protect and serve our neighborhoods,” said Rep. Neave Criado.

She believes there is a gap in state law. Permanent residents can also be firefighters, but not a cop.

"I had to scratch my head on that,” said Dallas Police chief Eddie Garcia. “How can you serve and sacrifice as a member of DFR but you can't at DPD?”

HB 1076 just passed through committee and will soon move to the House floor. The bill is garnering bipartisan support across Texas, as a similar bill also moves through the state Senate.

Chief Noakes hopes this will help him fill a shortage of about 137 officers. Hiring standards would be the same and background checks would be just as thorough for permanent residents, he added.

"There's no lowering of quality. What we're asking is to increase the level of quantity of quality applicants who can apply to become members of our department,” said Chief Noakes. “This in no way affects the level of quality that I demand, or Chief Garcia demands, or chiefs across the state will continue to demand.”

Noe Barrera is a criminal justice student at Texas Christian University. Originally from Mexico, he is currently a permanent resident and wants to be future ‘Officer Barrera’ but he can't – at least for now.

"I know back in Fort Worth, I was not born there but I was raised there,” he said. “We have a lot of Hispanic communities. We have different languages, and I want to make sure our people have a voice."

Chief Noakes expressed hope of being able to hire Barrerra one day.

“It would help us to engage and become better partners with every community in the cities we serve – specifically in the communities that have the most lack of trust and where we need to do the most work,” he said.

Chief Garcia says one thing that Dallas and many cities struggle with is retention. Right now, about 27% of sworn officers in the department are eligible to retire. DPD has a goal of hiring 300 new officers this year to fill the shortfalls.

"Each month at DPD alone, we are turning away 50 to 100 legal permanent residents at career fairs simply because they do not qualify for a peace officer license," he said.

Eleven other states allow permanent residents to be officers, including nearby Oklahoma and Louisiana.

"Texas is losing the recruitment war," said Chief Garcia.

Contact Us