DALLAS — The Dallas and Fort Worth police chiefs pledged their support Friday to a proposal working its way through Austin that could increase the number of officers in their departments.
For it to happen, Texas just has to approve allowing legal permanent residents to apply to become police officers, too.
Multiple other states have already passed measures similar to the one that State Representative Victoria Neave Criado filed HB 1076 late last year as an attempt to address the staffing levels that police chiefs have already reported are critically low.
At a news conference at Dallas Police headquarters on Friday morning, Noe Barrera presented himself as an example. Born in Mexico but raised in Fort Worth, he is a student at TCU who is studying criminology and criminal justice. He is a legal permanent resident on the sometimes-long path to becoming a U.S. citizen. His life-long goal? To join the Fort Worth Police Department. He says he's met every requirement, except one -- his citizenship status.
"Literally when I found that out, my life came to a stop because my whole life I knew I wanted to be an officer," Barrera said.
Eleven states, including Oklahoma and Louisiana, currently allow lawful permanent residents -- people who are in the process of getting their US citizenship -- to become peace officers.
Texas is not one of them.
"There is a labor shortage all across this state," State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado said. "Law enforcement is facing a shortage as well. Legal permanent residents can serve in the United States military and protect and serve and die for our country. They should also have the right to protect and serve our neighborhoods."
Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia and For Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes are both on board with the bill.
"House Bill 1076 would greatly assist law enforcement agencies," Garcia said Friday.
He says that DPD is turning away as many as 50 to 100 otherwise qualified applicants a month because of their immigration status.
"They have cultural and linguistic and experiential backgrounds that can help build bridges and increase trust between police and community at a time that we need it the most," Garcia said.
Noakes, like Neave Criado, wonders why police forces aren't able to hire these permanent legal residents when the military can.
"These are people who are allowed the privilege to serve the country in which they legally reside, in the United States military, which is the greatest fighting force in the world," Noakes said. "I believe it's only fitting that they are also able to serve the communities in which they legally reside to have the privilege to serve in the greatest profession: police officers."
Of the strict requirements to become a peace officer, Noakes said "there is no lowering of quality,"
He added: "What we are asking is to increase the quantity of quality applicants who can apply to become members of our department."
State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado says HB 1076 has passed out of committee and could be headed for a vote in the Texas House of Representatives next.
For folks like Barrera, that's an important step in the right direction.
"We just want to serve and protect our community," Barrera said. "We don't want any standards being lowered, any of that."