A new program helps first responders with work-related trauma avoid criminal prosecution, if they commit a crime. House Bill 3391, which is now law, gives counties the option to set up specialty courts to divert people into treatment, rather than jail.
But few counties have implemented the so-called diversion programs.
Texas Tribune criminal justice reporter Jolie McCullough says Harris, Dallas, Travis and El Paso counties don’t think the specialty courts are necessary. Specialty courts already exist for drug offenders and for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who commit crimes. But McCullough says not enough first responders are prosecuted to warrant a separate system.
“Cops…they’re not likely to be prosecuted very often anyway so there’s just not this need that they’re seeing that this will fill,” McCullough says.
The state law applies to firefighters, police officers, state troopers, prison guards, county jailers and paramedics who commit a misdemeanor or felony. But counties have leeway to be more specific about the types of cases that qualify for specialty court.
The measure flew through the Texas Legislature but some Tea Party Republicans objected during the session, arguing that it could give law enforcement officers special treatment.
“That was generally the concern is that this is creating a special class of persons, or you’re having courts per profession now,” McCullough says.
It could also complicate matters for communities where the relationship with law enforcement is tenuous. McCullough says Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is worried about the public perception of the judicial system giving special treatment to police officers and other first responders.
McCullough says the bill’s author Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), says the new law gets those suffering from mental-health issues the help they need instead of sending them through the criminal justice system.
Written by Caroline Covington.