“This is not the time for political charades,” said Nehls. “This is a time to support neighbor, friend, and fellow American, and time for action is now. We must restore safety to our streets and security in our schools.”
Nehls’ remarks followed a law enforcement roundtable his office had organized long before the brutal murder of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School last Tuesday.
Introduced by Nehls in December of 2021 in response to rising crime, the Public Safety Enhancement (PSE) Act would appropriate up to $4.5 billion in federal taxpayer funds for a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies in hiring and retaining officers over the next five years.
“I am calling on Congress to pass the Public Safety Enhancement Act, which will station 100,000 officers around our communities and schools so families may never have to endure this again.”
Nehls added that the president should find it easy to support the PSE, since the act would reauthorize Title I of then-Senator Biden’s 1994 crime bill that helped provide additional police officers across the nation in response to rising crime. At least 78 representatives co-sponsored the bill, including Texas Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28).
When Nehls introduced the bill last year, he cited Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics indicating that violent crime had risen by 5.6 percent in 2020 and that the nation’s murder rate had risen nearly 30 percent.
This week’s roundtable in Sugarland included representatives from multiple local city, county, and school district law enforcement agencies, as well as officials from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement Administration.
While the meetings were closed to the public, Nehl’s office told The Texan the group also discussed how increased border crossings are impacting Houston and Harris County, recent increases in fentanyl overdose deaths, and how the attorney general’s office can assist law enforcement agencies.
In response to a reporter’s question during a press conference after the meeting, Houston Police Department Assistant Chief of Police Larry Satterwhite expressed support for laws that would confiscate firearms from high-risk individuals or block them from gun ownership.
“I am a proponent of red flag laws. I believe that we have people out there that are identified in the community, that emerged through different platforms that are saying things that are very alarming, very threatening, making threats towards people, making threats towards schools. We get those calls all the time.”
Nehls, who previously served as the elected Sheriff of Fort Bend County, said that while red flag proposals could be part of the discussion, he had concerns over whether such laws were constitutional.
“When you talk about red flag laws, where does it start and where does it end?” Nehls asked. “Who is the individual that will determine it? Is it someone from social services or someone from some other place sitting in an office that’s going to infringe on the rights of that individual…or is it going to be a judge, and then at what level?”
“I think there needs to be some conversation on all of this, but I support the Second Amendment and I do not and will not support infringing on that Second Amendment right.”
Regarding other gun control proposals, Nehls pointed out that jurisdictions with stricter measures like Chicago experienced high rates of gun-related homicide.
Regarding Houston’s rising homicide numbers, Nehls called out local criminal court judges who were releasing violent suspects on bond.
“They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Despite rising crime in the region, Houston and Harris County governments have resisted calls to add more patrol officers to law enforcement, but both entities adopted programs that pay for additional overtime for existing officers. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s One Safe Houston initiative also includes $1 million for a gun buyback program.
Although Texas law enforcement authorities are still investigating and constructing a timeline of events in Uvalde, some preliminary reports suggest local Uvalde law enforcement officers did not enter the school during the first hour the gunman was shooting. The Texas Department of Public Safety said a tactical team of U.S. Border Patrol officers later entered the school and killed the perpetrator.
Nehls’ PSE proposal was referred to the Judiciary Committee led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10).
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.