Sunday, February 27, 2005

Who is searched at Texas traffic stops?

CORRECTION (3-10): I just got word that the Fort Worth numbers in the TCJC regional snapshot were calculated incorrectly. Apparenly some numbers were wrongly data entered. The other statistics cited here, I'm given to understand, are still correct. I'll correct the Fort Worth data and put up a new post when I get the accurate numbers. I apologize for the error. SH

Who gets searched at Texas traffic stops? It's not just minorities.

The details of the new Texas racial profiling study provide fascinating insight into what's going on at Texas traffic stops across the state. Readers should take an especially close look at the regional snapshots provided in the above link. I'll look at a few different aspects of the report over the next week, but for now let's examine how likely you are to be searched in different parts of the state.

Search rates vary a lot by race, but even more by department. For example, the Austin PD searches black folks 3.4 times more often than whites, while Houston PD searches blacks 3.2 times more often. Sounds pretty similar, right? Drill down a little deeper, though, and we find that Austin has a much worse problem. Black folks are searched at a whopping 22.5% of traffic stops in Austin, compared to just 12.0% of black drivers searched at stops in Houston. That's a huge difference.

The fact of the matter is, Austin PD is more likely to search EVERYBODY compared to Houston PD, not just minorities. White folks, too, are almost twice as likely to be searched at a traffic stop in Austin as in Houston -- they're searched at 3.7% of stops in Houston, and at 6.6% of stops in the capital.

Among Texas' big cities, Fort Worth cops are wasting a huge amount of time in unproductive searches -- they're searching blacks at 40% of traffic stops, Latinos 22.3% and Anglos 22.8% of the time! While it's certainly true that Fort Worth PD is searching black drivers more often, even white drivers stopped in Fort Worth are three times more likely to be subjected to a search than a black driver stopped in Dallas (7.5%)!


Really, so-called racial profiling data isn't just about identifying race-based problems. Texas' law provides communities with new statistical tools that were not avaialble before to analyze a range of police activities at traffic stops. Before now, folks in Fort Worth couldn't know that their department's search policies were out of whack with the rest of the state, but clearly citizens of that city are paying for a lot of wasted time searching compared to other major departments. And it's not just minorities whose rights are being abridged.

By contrast, check out El Paso's overall search numbers. Sure, black folks are 2.9 times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop than whites. But a white driver in Fort Worth is almost seven times more likely to be searched than a black person in El Paso. Here's the amazing stat, though: White people are 19 times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop in Fort Worth than in El Paso!!


That's one of the reasons why I've always thought that, although certainly the problem is worse for minorities, the issue of searches at trafffic stops isn't really, at root, a race problem. The problem of oversearching as a police tactic affects everybody.

Here are the search rates for Texas' big city PDs:



How many drivers were searched
as a percentage of total traffic stops, by race, 2003


Blacks

Latinos

Anglos

Dallas

7.5%

10.6%

3.6%

Houston

12.0%

9.1%

3.7%

Austin

22.5%

15.5%

6.6%

Fort Worth

40.1%

22.2%

22.8%

San Antonio

26.7%

20.0%

9.3%

El Paso

3.4%

1.8%

1.2%


4 comments:

Scott Chaffin said...

This is something I can get behind. I'm completely shocked that people don't know their basic rights about vehicle searches. I'd no more consent to a search of my truck without a warrant than I would a search of my house.

David said...

What you fail to understand is that Fort Worth cops are nice people, so we don't mind getting searched frequently. Most of the time they're just checking out the ladies, or making sure we're don't need any help.

I'm quite sure the comparisons change once you factor in that issue.

Chicagoland Cadillac Dealers said...

Well its an interesting study to say the least. I feel yes there is racial profiling; but obviously the race that is searched more must have some sort of history in the area.

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