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Who watches the private police departments?

Not good.

A veteran state lawmaker said Monday he is outraged by televised images of Rice University police officers striking a suspected bicycle thief with batons and appalled the university can refuse to release details because it is a private institution.

“We need to make certain we stop police officers from being able to hide behind their private institution status,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “Does stuff like this happen every day and they’re able to withhold it?”

Whitmire saw portions of a video, shot during an August arrest, when the excerpt was televised last week by KPRC-TV. The Houston Chronicle also has seen only the televised excerpt.

Whitmire said the Texas Rangers are investigating the university’s police department at his request and said he intends to seek to strengthen open records laws for more transparency.

[...]

The Rice police agency is under fire after officers hit 37-year-old Ivan Waller with batons while arresting him for stealing a “bait bike” that officers put out as part of a sting. Rice officials said in a statement that an internal review concluded the force was justified, but they did not release the full video or other information related to the arrest.

Texas law requires any government institution to release public information, such as salaries, mug shots of criminal suspects and personnel files. Because Rice is a private university, the police department is not required to release information such as the arrest video.

“Of course it was a beating,” said Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “If (Rice administrators) don’t have zero tolerance for what I saw with my own eyes, I will deal with them in Austin.” He said he wants the officers seen in the video fired.

The KPRC report is here, with a followup here that includes reactions from Sen. Whitmire and State Rep. Garnet Coleman. There are many law enforcement agencies in Texas, including some highly specialized ones, and some that are under the auspices of private entities like Rice University. It should be clear that all law enforcement agencies should be subject to the same level of disclosure and transparency, but they’re not, and as usual we don’t think about it until something like this happens. The same rules should apply to anyone that has the authority to arrest someone and to use force to subdue them. I look forward to the bills Sen. Whitmire will file as a result of this, and I recommend Rice take him at his word.

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6 Comments

  1. Tom Moran says:

    Private universitiesaren”t the only non-goverdps nments allower to comission officers. The Cattlemen’s Associationand the railroads are allowed to have the DPS commission employees as Texas Rangers. Yes, Texas Rangers.

  2. Tom Moran says:

    Private universitiesaren”t the only non-goverdps nments allower to comission officers. The Cattlemen’s Associationand the railroads are allowed to have the DPS commission employees as Texas Rangers. Yes, Texas Rangers.

  3. Tom Moran says:

    Private universitiesaren”t the only non-goverdps nments allower to comission officers. The Cattlemen’s Associationand the railroads are allowed to have the DPS commission employees as Texas Rangers. Yes, Texas Rangers.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Just one more example of an inept politician going off without all the facts. Whitmire is making his decision based on seconds of video, and he’s making threats to protect who? the guy who got arrested is a career criminal. Is that who we want to protect? If he stole my sons bike, I would beat him harder than that!

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    If he stole my son’s bike, I’d beat him even harder than Stephanie would beat him! Great! We all pretty much agree the thief is a scumbag. The problem is, we can’t have police being the arbiter of who is and who is not a scumbag in need of a beat down. It’s a short walk from cops beating the crap out of a guy like this to cops beating a good, criminal history free family in their driveway and kicking the family dog because the family’s son ran a stop sign.

    I understand those officers were probably caught up in the thrill of the chase, catching this guy red handed with their bike, but we can’t have officers administering street justice. Crime victims getting some street justice? Yes, great, but that’s something we cannot abdicate to the police. Scumbags like the bike thief have rights, and we need him to retain his rights, so that the rest of us can retain our rights.

  6. I’m a longtime fan of Senator Whitmire but I’m not down with him on every issue that ‘finds him.’ I wish I thought that muggers and purse snatchers read the paper and that this controversy might save some kids from getting jacked on the jogging trail.

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