Monday, November 09, 2015

Garbage In, Garbage Out: KXAN Reports DPS Racial Profiling Data Confounded by False Reports of "White" Stops

Reporting by KXAN provides another glimpse into the limits of regulation through transparency, i.e. the forcing of data reporting.  Texas has a commendable law requiring law enforcement agencies to collect "information relating to motor vehicle stops in which a citation is issued and to arrests made as a result of those stops," including the "race or ethnicity of the individual detained" and "whether the . . . officer knew" the race or ethnicity before the stop.  (Criminal Procedure Code Article 2.132(a)(6).)  Reporting, in turn, allows researchers (like co-blogger Amanda Woog) and advocates to hold agencies' feet to the fire when the data reveals racially skewed enforcement.

In theory.  But KXAN's review of reports generated by DPS troopers revealed that minority drivers are frequently documented as "white."  The article includes photographs and interviews with some of these folks, bearing out the claim that while there might be instances of racial ambiguity, at least some number of these errors are not so easily explained.  And as my University of Texas colleague Ranjana Natarajan observed in the article, accidental misattribution is certainly possible, but large numbers of misattribution point toward a more systemic or intentional dynamic at work.  Interestingly, a DPS official response to the KXAN report blames the available fields in the computer information systems used to document the stops - in particular, the absence of "Hispanic" as an option for describing the "race" of an individual.  IMHO it's a little lame that DPS is only now realizing the implications of that limitation.  But it's worth observing that this is actually a problem with law enforcement information systems nationwide, and that many researchers believe that this simple issue - the widespread absence of a Hispanic "race" box leading to attribution as "white" - creates a widespread systemic skew in our empirical portrait of Hispanics and the criminal justice system.

To make an entirely duh point, if people of color are routinely being documented as white, the regulatory dynamic breaks down.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Glad to see from the linked article that the legislature, including sponsors of the racial profiling legislation, are pressing DPS.  If it's a computer systems problem, surely the legislature can kick some money DPS's way to add a new check box and train their officers to use it.  Although I don't view body cameras as a panacea, here's a place where recording of stops would make feasible supervisory spot-checking of the field officers' reporting.


Anonymous said...

So what does a trooper or any police officer base their selection of race (i.e. which box they check) during a traffic stop?
In a day where folks get offended at the drop of a hat...should they ask the traffic violator, use their own observation, check what their driver license reflects, or check their rap sheets? What happens when these conflict as I would assume they more frequently do for Hispanics than that of Asians or blacks?

Anonymous said...

By and large, Troopers use whatever information is on the Driver License record. The people at the DL offices are not allowed to question the race that is put down on the form. If the DL record conflicts with what the Trooper sees on the side of the road, what do you expect them to use? In theory, every person with a DL filled out the form themselves; so what is an officer supposed to do; take the information that is supposedly self-reported, or change the information to their best guess? Really, it comes down to adjusting DL records.

Gadfly said...

Tweeted your link to Royce West's Twitter account, since he's the author of the legislation, just in case it hadn't crossed his radar screen yet.

Anonymous said...

Racial data should be as confidential as health data.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, according to the model racial profiling policy created for the state by the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, they're supposed to list "The person’s race or ethnicity, as stated by the person or as determined by the officer to the best of his/her ability."

I should also add, the data on stops really isn't that probative because there's a denominator problem. The only data generated by that bill which is actually useful for identifying discriminatory policing is the data on consent searches, particularly those departments which report Tier II data including whether contraband was found. But the stop data alone doesn't tell us a lot, whichever race is assigned to the driver.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I worked the 2000 census(never again). Our "supervisors" were dumb as rocks, couldn't find country folk or either couldn't speak to them(they'd be RUNNOFT), neither being the case for us since I drove straight to a couple's house that had RUNNOFT the "supervisor" and not only got the info from them but was invited to sit and have a glass of iced tea and invited back whenever I felt like visiting.
The other people who seemed to have not completed their questionnaire were those whose literary skills were lacking which involved a lot of Hispanics. They weren't complying for the same reasons others did not comply(none of your damned business)who had no use for govt., but simply because they mainly didn't understand the questions(who did?). I don't recall every choice in determining how you would describe yourself but Hispanic wasn't on the list.

After reading them every choice, they'd look around and say "I guess white". I'd say that too given the choices. They weren't black or native American nor Eskimo or any of the other monikers so "white" was as close as it got to describing them.

Anonymous said...

I was always taught that Hispanic was a culture, not a race. On the census, you report what the citizen states is his race that he identifies with.

Anonymous said...

I did a brief stent in law enforcement. "White" is how Hispanic individuals are identified under race. There is a separate "ethnicity" box. In that box Y or N are used meaning Hispanic or not. That box is rarely used. Thus, rap sheets do not reliably contain ethnicity data on Hispanic individuals. Furthermore, if a person with physical features of Latino heritage are fully acculturated to American culture, are they of the Hispanic culture or not? Although Hispanics are of the Caucasian race (as are some Africans), I often wondered how skewed data must be. As is known by many, the truth is often not allowed to interfere with the facts in the world of law enforcement.

Anonymous said...

"Hispanic" is not a "race".' In fact someone who identified as "Hispanic" or "Latino" might also consider themselves as "black" although not necessarily "African American." If only race is being considered many, if not most in Texas, would actually be identified physically as Caucasian (or white.) If you are counting ethnicity in the calculations, Hispanic or Latino doesn't tell you anything about skin color. And many that an officer might identify as Hispanic ot Latino, may actually classify themselves as Native Anerican. For that matter, they might also consider themselves as Hispanic, Asian or something else. And if the officer asks the person to self identify you may end up with a designation that doesn't match what witnesses or others officers would use based solely upon physical characteristics and description. That makes it harder to identify witnesses, suspects, missing persons and others. Having media immediately jump to a " cops are racist" story doesn't tell an accurate story, doesn't address the fact that many officers would not identify themselves as "white" (which by current media standards appears to mean they aren't capable of racism or discrimination), and generally fails in the obligation of a journalist to be a neutral observer and solid researcher who reports actual facts instead of looking at everything through a lens of racism. Makes me think of that college student a few years ago who was "white" But was originally from Africa. He marked African American when asked to self identify on school records. Needless to say, all hell broke loose when school administrators realized he looked white and not black. They demanded that only someone who is black can be African American which of course is not accurate.

Anonymous said...

It was only recently that DPS included a selection on license applications for "Hispanic" and most people that renew them don't change anything under the belief that they will then have to show up in person. That leaves millions of legacy licenses listing a person as "white". From a trooper's point of view, it makes sense to go with what the TDL says on it since that would list whatever the person selected. Leaving aside the race vs ethnicity issues aside, I doubt there are many truly pure "races" as defined, how would one define our President for example? His mother is whiter than most white his father very dark skinned, no "mixed" category.

Academic discussions aside since the report showed DPS only had 8 accusations of racial profiling and all were disproven, one of my neighbors is a black Cuban, another is a wonderful example of hybrid vigor with native american, white, Latino (Brazil origin, not Spain) and more. Even the US Census officials have struggled with the issues so rather than suggest some bottom of the food chain state employee is playing games, maybe all tickets should have a check box by the signature for the person to self select if it that important to a handful of people

Bill Miller said...

"...the widespread absence of a Hispanic 'race' box ..."

Perhaps because "Hispanic" is not a race in *any* meaningful sense of the word? Is "French" a "race"? What about "Slavic" and "Ionian"?

Hispanic is a cultural-linguistic term. There are white Hispanics (e.g., Marco Rubio, Carmen Diaz, and Ted Cruz), black Hispanics (e.g., Sammy Sosa), and Asian Hispanics (e.g., former president of Peru Alberto Fujimori). In America the term "Hispanic" is often incorrectly used to identity a mestizo (e.g., George Lopez), someone of mixed ancestry. Run a DNA analysis on the blood of a mestizo and you'll almost certainly find (if male) a Y-chromosome showing Spanish ancestry, and maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA evidencing AmerIndian ancestry.

Question for the racial bean counters: what the heck does the word "race" even mean? Ask 10 people and you're likely to get 10 different answers. How many different races are there? Do Arabs get their own race? What about Indians from the subcontinent? And the Polynesians? And what about aboriginal Australians? They are so unlike any other branches of the human family, so the argument goes, that they deserve their own racial category.

And we expect state troopers to make on-the-spot racial determinations which will satisfy the needs of a statute which at its root is inspired by political correctness?

Here's the inconvenient truth about "racial profiling": it's 99% myth. The inconvenient truth is that blacks are more likely to get pulled over more often others for the simple fact that they are more likely to violate traffic laws.

Bill Miller said...

What I meant to say: "In America the term 'Hispanic' is often interchangeably (and incorrectly) used with the term 'mestizo' ... "

Anonymous said...

As noted in a prior comment, the statute requires officers to record "[t]he person’s race or ethnicity, as stated by the person or as determined by the officer to the best of his/her ability."

For years the "race or ethnicity, as stated by the person" was whatever they stated on the form they filled out to get their DL. While it wasn't until relatively recently that "Hispanic" was an option, many DL clerks have expressed frustration that even since it has been, a ridiculous portion of obviously Hispanic DL applicants still check "White" and not "Hispanic" for whatever reason, be it a belief that they can avoid being treated as a minority or linked to a particular immigration status or what have you. With all the sudden focus on race and ethnicity making it look like they've been recording it wrong all this time, they're frustrated because they are required to defer to what the applicant puts on the form and not their own judgment or observations. So, yes, it's been systemically misreported for quite some time, but a ridiculous portion of that has been by the minority individuals deliberately misrepresenting their own race or ethnicity themselves. So when they got stopped, officers (and I mean all officers, not just troopers) deferred to whatever was on the license since that was "the person's race or ethnicity as stated by the person."

Now that it turns out that hasn't been working as intended, DPS policy has changed to require that troopers MUST ask every violator his/her race on every stop. With just a few days since the policy went into effect, there's already a pattern emerging:

* Most folks look at you like you're a complete idiot. I've had some caucasians, obviously being smart@$$, tell me "black." If that's what they tell me, that's what I have to put down even though I know for a fact it is false. I've had several African-Americans just give me the most pitying look like they can't believe the fool I must be to not be able to tell for myself and refuse to say anything. I've had a man who looked like a prototypical Hispanic with a Hispanic name and whose license (recent issue) said he was Hispanic tell me he was white. You want garbage in, garbage out, the data isn't getting any clearer even with this policy in place.

* Many Hispanics, especially those whose English is poor or nonexistent, think you're asking about immigration status. You'll spend five minutes trying to get them to say anything remotely relevant to race or ethnicity so you can put it down on the damn ticket, and all they want to tell you is they're a citizen or they have a green card. I don't care if they're legal or illegal, I can't do a damn thing about it anyway (which is silly, but that's another whole issue), all I want to know is do they claim the ethnicity that I can see sitting in front of me with my own two eyes.

* There are always the folks who want to jump to the conclusion that you're asking because you're racist and go off on a rant about how they're gonna complain and get your fired--when, in fact, it's that kind of PC mess that got us asking in the first place. Go ahead, complain...then the brass will watch my video, see I'm doing my job, and I look better, not worse. Thanks.

* There are also always folks who view any sort of questioning, especially on racial lines, as intrusive and offensive and refuse to answer. They're actually my favorite because while they're obnoxious in general they are also the only folks that policy allows me to just rely on my own judgment and that saves a lot of time and ends up with more accurate data in the long run.