Pubdate: Wed,  4 Feb 2004
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Los Angeles Times
Author: Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer


Black And Latino Drivers In Texas Are Pulled Over And Searched At Higher 
Rates Than Whites, The Survey Reports.

HOUSTON - African American and Latino drivers throughout Texas are more 
likely than whites to be pulled over and searched by police, according to a 
study released Tuesday. Commissioned by four minority advocacy groups, the 
study used data provided by 413 Texas law-enforcement agencies and examined 
millions of "encounters" between police officers and drivers in 2002.

The study found that three out of every four law enforcement agencies 
pulled over blacks and Latinos at higher rates than whites. Once the cars 
were pulled over, six in seven agencies reported searching African 
Americans and Latinos at a higher rate. Statewide, African Americans were 
about 60% more likely to be searched than whites, and Latinos were 40% more 
likely to be searched.

The numbers, the report said, "suggest a pattern of racial profiling by 
law-enforcement officers across Texas" - although it cautioned that other 
factors in law enforcement could be responsible.

Minority leaders on Tuesday called for an inquiry to determine how much of 
the disparity was due to trends in crime, and how much was due to bias.

But Charley Wilkison, political and legislative director of the 
15,000-member Combined Law Enforcement Assns. of Texas, questioned the 
study's conclusions and accused the advocacy groups of having an interest 
in its results. "My experience is, if you look at a set of numbers and you 
look hard enough, you'll find what you're looking for," he said.

The study - conducted by the Steward Research Group and headed by a 
professor at the University of Texas at Austin - was commissioned by the 
American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the League of United Latin 
American Citizens, the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and the 
Texas Criminal Justice Reform Commission.

Its findings are just the latest to show that people of color are pulled 
over and searched more often than whites. In Missouri, for example, state 
officials determined in 2002 that African Americans were stopped at a rate 
far higher than their population alone should suggest. Several members of 
Congress, in fact, are planning to submit a bill later this month that 
would require police agencies to record the race of drivers they pull over 
- - or face losing federal funding.

Minority leaders and civil-rights advocates said Tuesday that while they 
were not surprised by the Texas study's findings, they viewed them as a 
launch pad for reform.

In recent years, blacks and Latinos have brought charges of police 
brutality and abuse with some regularity in Texas.

A 1999 drug sting in the town of Tulia, for instance, resulted in the 
arrests of 46 people, almost all of them African American. The charges were 
based on the work of a single informant, who once had been named Texas 
lawman of the year. The informant since has been charged with perjury in 
the case, and Gov. Rick Perry last year pardoned most of those convicted in 
the case.

In December, a man in Chambers County, east of Houston, accepted a $120,000 
settlement to end a civil rights lawsuit alleging that sheriff's deputies 
had harassed and used excessive force against residents of minority 

And last month, scores of people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol 
in Austin to protest the shootings of two unarmed black men by local police.

The Texas study found that the racial disparity in the treatment of drivers 
was particularly pronounced in metropolitan areas. In Houston, for 
instance, blacks were more than three times as likely as whites to be 
searched. Robert Hurst, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department, said 
he had not yet seen the report and could not comment.

He did point out that in 1999, the city had voluntarily implemented a 
program in which officers recorded the race and ethnicity of people with 
whom they came into contact. According to the study, African American and 
Latino drivers also were more likely to be pulled over in areas of the 
state where whites more often were found with drugs and weapons.

Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, noted that in some 
areas, the study found that less than 10% of Latino drivers who consented 
to searches of their cars were found to be "doing something wrong."

"That means that 90% of them suffered the humiliation and demoralization 
that searches entail, but were innocent," Harrell said. "From another 
perspective, that means 90% of the time, police are wasting their time. It 
is inefficient."

But Wilkison, who also had yet to see the study, said the few officers who 
abuse their power by improperly targeting people of color are anomalies.

"Are there issues and problems out there? Sure," he said. "Officers are 
taught - they are trained - to profile. But it is unfair and unjust to 
paint them with a broad brush, [to say] that they are racist or act in a 
discriminatory way."
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