These numbers just confirm what Latinos already know from their experiences on Texas roads. Texans must demand greater oversight of law enforcement and immediate investigation as to the cause of these racial disparities.
- Ana Yáñez-Correa- policy director,League of United Latin American Citizens of Texas
Who would have thought that, here in the land of Jim Crow, that race relations still aren't exactly harmonious? Well, generally speaking Houstonians get along reasonably well, but you'd never know that judging by the conduct of Houston's finest. Of course, the Houston PD is hardly alone in this reality.
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 were required to report racial data on traffic stops.
An analysis of the data from 2002, released today, also found that Hispanic drivers stopped by HPD officers are 2.4 times more likely than Anglos to be searched.
The analysis of statistics from 413 law enforcement agencies 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.
It found a similar pattern of discriminatory treatment by traffic police statewide.
In spite of the law, police agencies haven't exactly been forthcoming when it comes to presenting information that will in the end be used to embarrass them. Hmm...imagine that? Law enforcment agencies stretching disclosure laws to the breaking point in an effort to avoid being held accountable? As you might imagine, civil rights groups are NOT amused.
"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 American Civil Liberties Union of Texas 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."
The work, in some cases, will be uphill. Only 413 agencies responded to the civil rights coalition that commissioned the report.
Of those, 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.
"The question is," said Harrell, "'Which of the laws do they think doesn't apply to them. Is it the Open Records Act or the racial profiling law?'"
It would be overly simplistic to take the data at face value, but anecdotally it certainly doesn't speak favorably of police colorblindness. In an area so heavily populated by African-Americans and Latinos, you'd think that police departments could find their way to devote a bit more energy to cultural sensitivity. Guess what, though? Old habits certainly die hard.