Texas Justice Initiative is a nonprofit organization that collects, analyzes, publishes and provides oversight for criminal justice data throughout Texas.
After Michael Brown was shot and killed by former officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Americans suddenly realized the dismal state of data-collection on officer-involved shootings.
A scramble ensued to track how often members of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in America shot civilians – a daunting, complex and fragmented task. Departments vary vastly in their approaches to collecting data on their interactions with the public, including their uses of force, rendering comparisons and analysis impossible. Even when departments do collect data, it’s often difficult for the public to access, parse and analyze for themselves.
But in Texas, things can be different.
In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation that required agencies to report shootings to the state. Paired with a decades-old law that mandates deaths by officer-involved shootings and in any other type of law enforcement custody are reported to the state, the laws set Texas apart from most other states in requiring such reporting by police.
These laws, though, only partially improve the public’s access to information. State law does not require – and the state does not – publish the data in an easily understandable way, analyze the data or provide oversight in ensuring compliance. This is where the Texas Justice Initiative comes in.
What We Do
We’ll dive deep into the system’s policies and activities, first publishing the data as we search for missing reports, and then using research and investigative journalism to add new contexts to our data, available for all to peruse. Using solid facts and numbers, TJI will examine the state’s criminal justice system, a complex and sprawling system that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of Texans each year. Though we’re starting with officer-involved shootings and deaths-in-custody, we have a long list of other data sets related to Texas’ criminal justice system that we plan to incorporate over time.
We believe that with quality information, we can better understand each other, craft good policy, improve governance, ensure accountability and identify creative solutions. TJI hopes to promote informed discussion on controversial topics of grave importance and impact research that leads to police, detention, and sentencing policy reform. We hope our work will also encourage replication in other states, both by bringing attention to the Texas policies and how they do or do not work, and by creating a platform that can be duplicated using data from other states.
Co-founder Amanda Woog is the Executive Director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. Prior to joining TFDP, she held research fellowships at the Quattrone Center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the University of Texas at Austin. As a fellow at UT, she met Eva Ruth Moravec and they began plotting the Texas Justice Initiative, originally a fellowship project. In 2017, the duo co-founded TJI as a nonprofit. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Amanda clerked on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, served as Policy Director for the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and was a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.
Eva Ruth Moravec
Co-founder and Executive Director Eva Ruth Moravec is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting fellow, a freelance reporterand the author of a forthcoming book that explores the legality of police shootings in Texas. While in a data journalism class for her Master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin, Eva Ruth started a database of officer-involved shootings in Texas. She then explored cases in her database through “Point of Impact,” an investigative journalism series that ran in three Texas daily newspapers. She has covered criminal justice in Texas for a decade, including stints at the San Antonio Express-News and The Associated Press. Find her on Twitter here.
The Texas Justice Initiative is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization under the governance of a board of directors: William Kelly, Karen Kennard, Meme Styles and Bryan Whoolery. The board meets quarterly and can be reached via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meme Styles is the visionary behind MEASURE, a nonprofit she founded in 2015 to build trust, increase transparency and measure progress in underserved communities. As “chief volunteer,” Meme works with the board, leadership team and the community to further the organization’s mission. In 2018, MEASURE successfully advocated in Austin for evidence-based policing as a way to increase collaboration and transparency. Meme, a graduate of American Military University, holds a certificate in Performance Measurement from George Washington University College of Professional Studies. By day, Meme works for the State of Texas as a Privacy Officer, safeguarding data.
William R. Kelly is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research at the University of Texas at Austin. A professor and researcher in criminology and criminal justice for over 25 years, he has considerable experience developing, implementing and evaluating a wide variety of criminal justice programs and policies. He has provided expert advice and counsel on big picture justice policy issues as well as the design, implementation, operation and evaluation of very specific justice programs and initiatives, and written four books on reforming the American criminal justice system.
Karen M. Kennard is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig LLP. Karen has practiced law for over 25 years, including 11 as the City Attorney for the City of Austin. There, Karen was instrumental in leading several high-profile initiatives. She started her law career as the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Midland and later worked at the Texas Municipal League, where she provided legal and legislative services to elected and appointed city officials throughout Texas. A graduate of the Texas Tech University School of Law, she is a member of the Austin Chapter of the Links Inc and the Beta Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.
Bryan Whoolery is a career police officer with more than 29 years of criminal justice and security-related experience. After spending 28 years at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Bryan was selected to become the security director for the Texas Bullion Depository in 2017. As a law enforcement officer, Bryan is an expert at conducting SWAT operations, investigations, juvenile justice, managing critical incidents, executive protection and training. He also teaches as an adjunct instructor for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and is a member of the Justice Academy’s Research Team for the Hostage Survivability Model.
TJI is grateful for the financial support we’ve received so far. Many thanks to the individuals who’ve donated to TJI directly and through Facebook, and to our grantors: the Awesome Foundation, the John and Florence Newman Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute.