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Race a Factor in Texas Stops

Study Finds Police More Likely to Pull Over Blacks, Latinos

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page A03

AUSTIN, Feb. 24 -- A study commissioned by minority advocacy groups released Thursday found that police throughout Texas stop and search black and Latino drivers at higher rates than whites but that officers are more likely to find drugs, guns and other contraband on whites.

The study, called "Don't Mind If I Take a Look, Do Ya?," examined 2003 statistics provided by 1,060 law enforcement agencies on consensual searches of vehicles during traffic stops and how often contraband was found.

It said that 3 of 5 law enforcement agencies reported conducting searches of minority drivers at higher rates than whites. In addition, of the agencies that searched blacks and Latinos at higher rates, 51 percent found contraband on whites at a higher rate than on blacks, while 58 percent found contraband in the possession of whites at higher rates than in the possession of Latinos.

Although sponsors of the study admitted that discrepancies exist in how the local police agencies analyzed and reported their data, they said that overall, the statistics show a pattern of racial profiling.

"You're wasting a lot of resources that obviously can be used to fight crime elsewhere, and you're subjecting a lot of people to unnecessary searches," said Scott Henson, director of the police accountability project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

The report said the overwhelming majority of law enforcement agencies "provided no mitigating information or insight to explain disparate search rates between Anglos and minorities."

The report on racial profiling is the second commissioned by the ACLU, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches. The first report, released a year ago, was based on information provided by 413 law enforcement agencies. That study found that 3 out of 4 agencies pulled over minority drivers at higher rates than whites and that 6 in 7 agencies searched blacks and Latinos at a higher rate during those traffic stops.

New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Hawaii have banned consensual searches after controversies about racial profiling and the California Highway Patrol ended the practice as part of a lawsuit settlement. Will Harrell, the executive director of the Texas office of the ACLU, said he supported a law to ban such searches in Texas.

The head of a research center on racial profiling said the Texas data reflect national trends, but he warned against making broad conclusions from raw stop-and-search data. Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, also said that banning consensual searches is not a panacea to the problem of racial profiling. The institute has studied the problem in almost 500 jurisdictions nationwide, although not in Texas.

"Do those findings alone indicate racial profiling, because there are other reasons why some groups are stopped more often," McDevitt said, including deliberate police saturation of high-crime areas.

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