Latinos’ rate exceeds twice that of Anglos
Lori Rodriguez, Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Minority Affairs Writer, Feb. 4
Black motorists stopped by the Houston Police Department are 3.5 times more likely to be searched than Anglos, the worst disparity reported by any major Texas city, according to the first statewide compilation of statistics since law enforcement agencies have been required to report racial data on traffic stops.
An analysis of the data from 2002 also found that Latino drivers stopped by HPD officers are 2.4 times more likely than Anglos to be searched.
The study of statistics from 413 law enforcement agencies released Tuesday was commissioned by the Texas State Conference of NAACP branches, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.
The report found a similar pattern by traffic police statewide.
About six of every seven law enforcement agencies in Texas searched black and Latino motorists following a traffic stop at higher rates than Anglos. Three-quarters of the agencies stopped minorities at significantly higher rates, the report said.
Statewide, blacks are 1.6 times more likely to be searched after being stopped than Anglos. Latino drivers are 1.4 times more likely to be searched.
“As great as some of the disparities are, it’s no wonder blacks are overrepresented at every level of the criminal justice system,” said NAACP state president Gary Bledsoe.
The civil rights groups called for immediate action on local and state levels, including putting enforcement teeth into the law aimed at combating the widespread practice of racial profiling by police.
“Nobody thought that Texas Senate Bill 1074 would pass and suddenly racial profiling in the state would end,” said Will Harrell, executive director of the state ACLU and the chief lobbyist for the law, which passed in 2001. “What it is is a measuring stick. It provides the police departments with a means to measure how they’re doing and, now that they know, they have to go about seeing what they can do to remedy the problems. That includes training of line officers, discipline, sanctions and even termination in some cases.”
More than 600 police and sheriff’s departments ignored the civil rights groups’ open records requests for the demographic information used for the report. Of the 413 agencies that responded, more than a third did not report the basic stop, search and arrest data required by the new law. More than 83 percent of departments did not use any auditing procedures to ensure against human errors, technical mistakes or data tampering.
“Which of the laws do they think doesn’t apply to them?” said Harrell. “Is it the Open Records Act or the racial profiling law?”
According to the 2002 figures reported to the state last March, HPD traffic officers stopped 191,066 blacks and searched 24,937, some with their permission and others because officers considered them suspicious. Of the total stopped, 26,723 ended in arrests. Of 158,874 Latinos who were stopped, 12,783 were searched and 15,897 were arrested.
Officers during the same period stopped 172,533 Anglos, 7,393 of whom were searched and 10,560 were arrested.
The Houston population is 37.4 percent Latino, 25.3 percent black and 30.8 percent Anglo.
HPD officials said they need to closely examine the report before commenting. But in 1999, before the state law was passed, Police Chief C.O. Bradford ordered officers to begin collecting data on the race, age and sex of every person they initiated contact with. Preventing racial profiling also was a priority of former Mayor Lee Brown.
“We’re concerned about the issue and we keep trying to understand the data and the reasons behind it better,” said HPD Capt. David Cutler, the department’s racial profiling data collection expert. “But the mistake that people often make is thinking everyone has the same probability of getting stopped in traffic and that’s not the case.”
HPD staffs officers according to calls for service and the degree of crime. As a rule, said Cutler, the lower the economic level of a neighborhood, the more crime and the greater the chance motorists and pedestrians will be stopped.
People without discretionary income to properly maintain their cars also run a greater risk of getting stopped, regardless of race, said Cutler.
“I would say socioeconomic factors have a greater impact on the chances of getting stopped than race and sex,” he said. “Putting food on the table just may take priority to getting a broken tail-light fixed.”
LULAC state policy director Ana Yáñez-Correa said the report mirrors similar studies elsewhere.
“These numbers just confirm what Latinos already know from their experiences on Texas roads,” she said.
The agencies currently are required to report only statistics of traffic stops that resulted in tickets or arrests. It exempted stops that involved pedestrians or resulted in warnings or searches without tickets.
In the future, departments will be required to report more comprehensive data, including whether probable cause to conduct a search existed, whether the officer had the individual’s voluntary consent and whether contraband was found.
But in a substantial loophole, the law does not require the more in-depth information from departments that currently use audio and visual equipment in vehicles or have even applied for funding to buy any. These exemptions cover a majority of the state’s policing departments.
While HPD cars have been equipped with recording equipment for some time, Cutler said the department still gathers and tracks the detailed data on a month-to-month basis. “We’re not required to but we still do it,” he said.
The civil rights groups also criticized the overall lack of teeth in the law and the absence of standardized reporting.
Many departments also did not break the data down by race and ethnicity while others used arbitrary or misleading categories, such as counting Latinos as Anglos. One county department considered “Asians” and “Orientals” as two different ethnic groups.
Authored by University of Texas economics professor Dwight Steward and a team of experts, the report recommends that the Legislature amend the law to require the more comprehensive data from all of the law enforcement agencies.