TexasPoliceFacts.com serves as a hub for facts and key terms while providing a wide range of resources including research papers, recorded panels, and up-to-date statistics on law enforcement activity in the state. Visitors can easily access concise, transparent information that is sourced and cited.
Law enforcement can be confusing, and there are a lot of terms flying around the news. We’ve compiled a list of frequently used and commonly misunderstood Texas Law Enforcement terms and their definitions.
The removal of a person’s freedom of movement, made based on a warrant or probable cause.
“At will” employment means that Texas employers can fire an employee for any reason, as long as it does not violate the law. Approximately 96% of all Texas law enforcement agencies are “at will.” Examples of terminations that would violate the law are firing based on age, race, gender, etc., or in retaliation for taking medical leave, or in retaliation for whistleblowing activities.
The process by which a police department registers and enters charges against an arrested detainee.
Burdens of Proof
Regarding law enforcement, burdens of proof refer to degrees of certainty required by officials to instigate contact or action. This can range from reasonable suspicion to probable cause and all the way up to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chapter 143 / Municipal Civil Service
This chapter of Local Government Code allows for cities with populations of more than 10,000 to establish a police officers’ and/or firefighters’ Civil Service Commission. This commission is a government agency that regulates the employment and working conditions of civil servants. It also ensures a transparent termination process for both the public and law enforcement officers. Chapter 143 must be adopted by voters at the local level. Eighty-seven cities in Texas have adopted this chapter for police.
- 73 cities have adopted Chapter 143 for police & fire
- 14 cities have adopted Chapter 143 for police only
- 5 cities have adopted Chapter 143 for fire only
Chapter 158 / County and Sheriff Civil Service
This chapter of Local Government Code allows for counties with populations of more than 190,000 to create a countywide civil service system. Counties with populations of 500,000 or more are eligible for Subchapter B, a sheriff’s only civil service. This commission is a government agency that regulates the employment and working conditions of civil servants in the county or sheriff’s department. It also ensures a transparent termination process for both the public and law enforcement officers. Chapter 158 must be adopted by voters at the local level.
- 14 counties have adopted Chapter 158 Civil Service
Chapter 174 / Collective Bargaining
The process by which governmental subdivisions can enter into written agreements with their law enforcement officers regarding pay, benefits and working conditions.
Chapter 174 is the section of the Local Government Code that allows for the collective bargaining process. Chapter 174 must be adopted by voters at the local level via a referendum process.
- 11 counties have adopted Chapter 174
- 17 cities have adopted Chapter 174 for police and fire
- 15 cities have adopted Chapter 174 for police only
- 4 cities have adopted Chapter 174 for fire only
Elected peace officers designated by the Texas Constitution who serve four year terms. Counties may have multiple constables, but not more than one per precinct.
Taking action or communicating verbally or nonverbally during a potential force encounter in an attempt to stabilize the situation and reduce the immediate threat, so that more time and resources can be called on to resolve the situation with minimal force required.
To restrain and maintain custody of someone, typically in relation to reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity.
Refers to the physical area within an arrestee’s reach, and any potential weapons or actions they could take within that space.
Meet & Confer
Like collective bargaining except that it is completely permissive for both parties.
Shorthand for law enforcement officers. Another title is peace officer, which is a broad term that includes officials working outside of just police departments.
There are several less-lethal weapons, but the three most commonly used by police are electronic control weapons (commonly Tasers), batons and pepper spray. Less-lethal weapons offer law enforcement officers options between empty hand control and lethal force to de-escalate situations
Official Oppression is abuse of office. Found in Section 3903 of the Penal Code, Official Oppression makes it a crime for a public servant to use their office to deny someone their rights, sexually harass or mistreat someone.
Qualified immunity is a standard established by the United States Supreme Court, which deters frivolous lawsuits against law enforcement officers for actions performed during the course of duty. Qualified immunity has nothing to do with the criminal investigation and prosecution of law enforcement officers, nor does it have any impact on disciplinary actions taken against officers.
An elected official holding office for four years. There is a sheriff’s office in each of Texas’ 254 counties, and they have several local responsibilities, including operation of county jails and serving warrants and civil papers.
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
Known as TCOLE, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement is the state regulatory agency established to ensure that Texans are served by highly trained and ethical law enforcement, corrections, and telecommunications personnel.
The TCOLE Separation of licensee form, also known as the F-5, is a state designation of separation document that agencies are mandated to complete upon an officer’s separation. Similar to a military DD214, the F5 will designate whether the separation was “honorably discharged,” “generally discharged,” or “dishonorably discharged.” If an officer has been dishonorably discharged twice, his/her license is suspended.
Use of Force
While there is no universally-accepted definition of use of force, the term generally applies to the amount of effort required by law enforcement officials to compel compliance from an unwilling subject. Typically, the use of force is governed by three principles - necessity, proportionality and precaution.
The continued escalation of force based on the circumstances observed by an officer in conjunction with the need to resolve a situation. Different agencies have different policies in place to guide the use of force, but an example could be:
- Officer Presence
- Verbal instructions/commands
- Empty Hand Control
- Less-Lethal Methods
- Lethal Force