STATE EDUCATION

"Don't panic": Texas Education Agency sends instructions on police interaction curriculum

School districts received a 16-minute video and instruction guide to teach the newly-required curriculum for high schoolers on proper interaction with law enforcement during traffic stops.

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“So you’re getting pulled over...”

The Texas Education Agency has sent school districts the educational material to teach high schoolers how to properly interact with law enforcement during traffic stops. The material — which includes a 16-minute video with good and bad habits dramatically acted out amid fast-paced music and overlaid clips of talking heads — is a key part of a new Texas law passed called the Community Safety Education Act.

“The goal of the act was to define the behavior expectations of citizens and law enforcement during traffic interactions,” says state Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat who authored the legislation, at the beginning of the video. “We know that in some communities there’s an issue concerning trust between law enforcement and the community.”

Senate Bill 30 breezed through the Texas Legislature last year as tension continued to grow over deadly police encounters, many of which stem from traffic stops. Notably, it passed after the death of Sandra Bland — the video footage of a quick escalation from simple traffic stop to combative arrest and her subsequent jail death prompted lawmakers to take action.

The law requires that teens, new drivers and police officers be specifically taught on police and citizen interactions. According to the TEA’s instructor guide, the school curriculum includes four sections: the duties of officers, citizen rights, proper behavior during an interaction and filing a complaint or compliment.

The video, which seems to be a main focus of the teaching, first depicts a “what not to do” scene where two young women frantically rustle about the car after being pulled over, reaching under the seat and into the glove compartment before officers approach.

After answering some questions on traffic stop interactions and a cameo of Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo detailing how you can complain about an officer’s conduct, it goes to a “good” traffic stop, where two officers chatting about dinner options pull over a man with no brake lights. Clips float across the screen with different officers telling the viewer how to act once they see the flashing lights of a police car, like: “don’t panic,” “pull off the road,” and “roll down your windows.”

The instructor guide, and the video, emphasize that drivers should keep both hands on the steering wheel and only reach for your license or insurance documents after telling the officer you are going to get them.

“When the officer approaches your vehicle, certain movements such as reaching and searching for required documents, could be interpreted as a threat to the officer’s safety or indicate possible criminal activity,” the guide says.

The driver, following these instructions, has a cordial chat with the officers who send him on his way with a warning. Officers end the video with a joint call:

“We just want to keep everyone safe and get to our home at the end of the day.”

Starting with this year’s freshmen class, every high schooler must complete the instruction before being eligible for graduation, according to the State Board of Education. But the districts have flexibility in determining which course or courses include the curriculum.

Texas officers must complete the training by January 2020 or within two years of their licensure date. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement published their version of the video in late August, and at a Sept. 12 hearing, a commission representative told state lawmakers that about 350 officers had undergone the training.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/10/02/texas-education-agency-traffic-stop-police-interaction-law/.

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