“The joke at the Capitol,” said Tom Gaylor, who lobbies for the Texas Municipal Police Association, which has opposed the proliferation of policing agencies, “is that it’s often easier to identify those who aren’t police officers.” The Austin American-Statesman says the peace officer designation has spread far beyond its original constitutional definition of constables, sheriffs, marshals, and police officers. Since 1965, legislators have amended the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which sets out who can designate their own police department, nearly 50 times.
The result: Today there are three dozen types of agencies, institutions, boards, commissions, and political subdivisions that can appoint their own law enforcement agents. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, which licenses police officers, keeps tabs on 2,615 separate law enforcement agencies. These are not just hobby cops. “In Texas, when you get a commissioned, certified police officer, you get the same person who has the ability to investigate crimes and the authority to arrest,” said Charley Wilkison, public affairs director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a statewide police union. “And they’re on the job 24/7.” In most instances, that means guns, badges and the authority – even the obligation – to interrupt wrongdoing wherever it occurs. Having so many entities with their own ad hoc police can be confusing to the public.