Texas' racial profiling law compels collection of the largest racial profiling dataset in the world, but the standards for data and analysis have been all over the map, differing from department to department.
If SB 1503 by West, which just passed the Senate today, becomes law, the Department of Public Safety will become the new central repository and, by rule, the issuer of standards for racial profiling data collection and analysis. Right now, every department reports their data only to their own governing body. Under SB 1503, DPS would tell departments what data to gather and how, then compile it in a central repository where other researchers could access it.
The original bill would have placed the repository at the University of North Texas at Dallas, which is in Sen. West's district, but police chiefs and others objected, considering DPS more neutral. The amended bill also stripped out the requirement to gather data in an officer-specific format. Currently some departments gather officer-identified data, but they are not required to do so. Even when their primary criticisms were addressed, though, the law enforcement interests arrayed against the bill continued their opposition.
The data gathered under Texas' racial profiling law, though isn't just about race, but also about police practices like consent searches. This data contributed to the decision by the Austin Police Department to begin requiring written consent at traffic stops, then documented a 63% decline in drivers' consent to search after the policy was implemented.
The most important part of this bill adjusts the data collected to make it more accurate. Right now, in some cases, racial profiling data is skewed to make officers stop and search data look worse than may be justified. For example, many departments lump together consent searches with searches performed "incident to arrest," meaning the officer was required to search the car by policy after someone has been taken into custody. That search is required, and does not involve officer discretion. If it turns out the officer arrests more minorities than whites at traffic stops, say, because they're more likely to have outstanding warrants, those searches shouldn't be counted against the officer's racial profiling data. Unless the bill passes, though, those kind of data problems will continue to be unfair to officers.
Similarly, presently traffic stop data does not differentiate between drivers from inside and outside the jurisdiction. Comparing in-jurisdiction census demographics, for example, to drivers from outside the jurisdiction is comparing statistical apples and oranges. The new law parses the data so that only in-jurisdiction drivers will be so compared.
Right now, a report annually compiled by civil rights groups using the Texas open records act is the only source of cross-agency analysis, but many in law enforcement do not trust that source. So with the data fixes, at the end of the day, the new law should allow law enforcement and the public to have more faith in the accuracy of the data and its analysis.
Now it's onto the House, where the companion bill was filed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson.
UPDATE: More later, but this bill, sadly, is D-E-A-D, having never received a House committee hearing. Apparently, the police unions like the way the data is collected right now, and don't want any changes. Okay. But be careful what you ask for, guys. Sen. West made every compromise y'all wanted; in the end this bill would only have made the data more accurate and maintain it in a neutral spot, both of which should help you more than hurt you.