Gov. Greg Abbott on June 5 signed into law House Bill 3540, which gives police officers the ability to use their own discretion when responding to minor altercations involving persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities in a group home setting.
Effective Sept. 1, the new law allows officers to assess the situation and determine whether or not to release the person at their residence in lieu of arresting the person if the officer:
• Believes confinement of the person in a correctional facility is unnecessary to protect the person and the other persons who reside at the residence; and
• The officer made reasonable efforts to consult with the staff at the person’s residence and with the person regarding the decision.
Authored by state Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, the bill passed through the House and Senate unanimously.
Burns said officers previously had no choice to arrest these individuals should a roommate or other person call to report disagreements that sometimes escalate to physical altercations.
“While sometimes necessary, arrest is not always the correct response in these situations,” he said. “There can be long-term harmful effects on individuals detained inappropriately. Every person and every situation is different, and until now our law enforcement officers had their hands tied when it came to determining the best course of action.”
Burns reached out to Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance when proposing this legislation.
“We appreciate that this bill will allow police officers to use common sense when determining whether a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities needs to be arrested,” Severance said.
Burns also worked alongside The ARC of Texas, which advocates for including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in all aspects of society.
“The alarming rate of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in jails and prisons points to unique support needs and characteristics of Texans with IDD,” said Kyle Piccola, director of public policy and advocacy for the ARC. “Legislation like this is critical to improve outcomes for Texans with IDD in our criminal justice system and to provide the appropriate accommodations they require.”
Abbott said many jails are not equipped for Texans with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and an arrest or detainment in certain situations might lead to more harm than good.
“HB 3540 provides our peace officers with the freedom they need to make appropriate and responsible decisions that are not only best for law enforcement, but for the individuals they interact with,” Abbott said.