HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Senate OKs Legislation To Stop Racial Profiling
Pubdate: Thu, 05 Apr 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Author: Polly Ross Hughes


AUSTIN -- A bill to prevent racial profiling by police -- a practice 
criticized last week by President Bush and which studies say 
disproportionately victimizes Hispanics in Texas -- won widespread approval 
in the state Senate on Wednesday.

"Racial profiling is against the law. It's simply wrong, improper and 
unfair," said Joseph Berra, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal 
Defense and Educational Fund, one of several civil rights groups backing 
the bill alongside some law enforcement officers.

The measure, approved 28-2, requires video cameras and audio equipment in 
8,000 patrol cars statewide. It calls for law enforcement agencies to 
gather uniform and accessible data on the race or ethnicity of individuals 
stopped and whether they were searched. Law officers would also receive 
training to follow policies against racial profiling.

"I think the biggest roadblock we still have is the issue of funding," said 
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, whose Senate Bill 1074 would go into effect 
fully only if legislators can raise $35 million in a tight budget year for 
8,000 video cameras to equip patrol cars.

The camera provision, which could be partially funded by an increase in 
traffic fines, is the most important element of what West says should be a 
"holistic" approach to ending racial profiling.

"This is an important law enforcement issue, not just racial profiling," he 
said. "It will help protect the police officer against frivolous lawsuits, 
frivolous complaints. It protects the citizen and also can be used in 
evidence in a criminal case."

In an analysis of traffic stops by the Texas Department of Public Safety, 
University of Texas economics professor Dwight Stewart found that Hispanics 
were three times more likely than whites to be searched, while blacks were 
twice as likely.

Stewart's analysis dealt with traffic stops that did not result in a ticket 
but rather a warning citation. He noted that racial profiling seemed more 
common on interstate highways than on rural roads, but found "race was 
still a more significant factor" than the time of day or type of car being 

A DPS study in October asserted that the agency has a strict policy against 
racial profiling -- which is illegal -- and attempted to explain the 
disproportionate number of Hispanics searched after routine traffic stops.

"The high percentage of Hispanic driver warning searches is related to the 
geographic location of Texas," it said. "Texas has the largest continuous 
border mileage with Mexico of any state in the nation. A large portion of 
illegal drugs enters the United States . . . through illegal crossing of 
the Mexico/Texas border."

Berra, of MALDEF, said that explanation hardly convinces him. "To me, 
that's racial profiling," he said.

In the Senate, West agreed to several changes to make his bill acceptable 
and to allay concerns. In addition to saying cameras will be required only 
if they are funded by the state, he accepted an amendment to allay fears of 
cities that the bill might prompt lawsuits.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, objected to a change by Sen. Robert Duncan, 
R-Lubbock, that says statistical data gathered by the police -- on its own 
- -- is not sufficient to prove a case of racial profiling.

"I don't like your amendment. I'm dead serious. If you've got 100 stops, it 
doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what's going on," Gallegos said.

Republican Sens. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Jon Lindsay of Houston 
cast the only two votes against the bill, but it gained an unusual vote 
from Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and has caught the interest of Gov. Rick Perry.

"It is simply not acceptable in the state of Texas for anyone to be 
detained or arrested based on a racial profile. It was important enough 
that I break my normal procedure (as presiding officer) and cast a vote," 
Ratliff said.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor also finds racial profiling 

"He looks forward to see how the legislation and possible funding progress 
through the Legislature," she said.
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