Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Central repository created at TCLEOSE for racial profiling data

Here's a happy tidbit I'd missed that the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's Ana Yañez Correa tells me was amended to the TCLEOSE Sunset bill (HB 3389) in the final days of the session:

Texas finally created a central repository for compiling and comparing local racial profiling data gathered by police officers at traffic stops. TCLEOSE will create rules and data reporting standards so we'll no longer have this bizarre situation where every department, conceivably, can have its own definitions of all the terms they're supposed to report.

The last-minute amendment to HB 3389 added several reforms long sought by those of us who've used the data up close and personal, but the Lege refrained from expanding reporting beyond stops where traffic tickets are issued, and they still won't require most departments to gather data on whether vehicle searches yield contraband.

That said, it's a big deal that they centralized reporting, created penalties for non-compliance, and that reporting by local departments will become standardized over time as a result of TCLEOSE rulemaking. That's all good news and something that's been needed for quite awhile. I thought for sure this deal was cut in 2005 but it fell through by the end of session.

I heard through the grapevine the Texas Municipal Police Association lobbied the Governor to veto the TCLEOSE Sunset bill because it included the central repository: It's possible the reason Rick Perry didn't oblige them was that Sen. West and other supporters took half a loaf on strengthening the data collection requirements. Quien sabe? I'm glad they got as much as they did!

The legislation relieves the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition of its long-time de facto role as Texas' central repository of racial profiling data. For years Molly Totman gathered the information annually through open records requests; she and statistician Dwight Steward compiled a database that has now served that purpose for many years. I'll bet Molly will be happy to see that TCJC function retired and passed along to a state agency, which is where the responsibility arguably should have been in the first place. Though I could swear on a stack of Bibles they were always super-straight with the data, some police departments were suspicious of results even though they could doublecheck them from their own reports. A state agency's numbers will inherently be more trusted.

Next session, the Lege should consider moving the data elements about contraband and arrests into the "mandatory" section of the law (CCP 2.132) and eliminating the other "optional" data elements (required only of agencies that don't have video in their patrol cars that did not receive funding in a long-ago bond election).

Having evaluated this data closely for what it can and cannot usefully show, I think the contraband hit-rate information is vital for giving police supervisors, civilian officials and the public a clear idea of whether consent search tactics are a good use of police officers' time and focus.

When Austin PD first compiled that data, they discovered police were seeking consent searches from black drivers more than five times as often as whites but were finding contraband on white drivers twice as often as black drivers who were searched. As a result, the city ultimately moved to requiring written consent for all searches at traffic stops where officers don't have probable cause. The number of searches declined dramatically, but there's no evidence that's caused some new uptick in crime.

That contraband data is still "optional" for agencies that have in-dash video in their vehicles (in fact, Austin PD quit reporting contraband hit-rate data), but that's the most interesting and probative aspect of this information, by far - both for the public to understand the impact of departmental search policies and for supervisors to measure the productivity of how their officers are spending their time. If departments must gather and report so-called "racial profiling data," anyway, we may as well get the most possible bang for the buck.

In the meantime, congrats to state Sen. Royce West and his staffer Kelvin Bass who've been pushing for this central repository now for many moons.


Anonymous said...

Yes and the proverbial exception..........................

Art. 2.135. PARTIAL EXEMPTION FOR AGENCIES USING VIDEO AND AUDIO EQUIPMENT. (a) A peace officer is exempt from the reporting requirement under Article 2.133 and the chief administrator of a law enforcement agency, regardless of whether the administrator is elected, employed, or appointed, is exempt from the compilation, analysis, and reporting requirements under Article 2.134 if:
(1) during the calendar year preceding the date that a report under Article 2.134 is required to be submitted:
(A) each law enforcement motor vehicle regularly used by an officer employed by the agency to make motor vehicle [traffic and pedestrian] stops is equipped with video camera and transmitter-activated equipment and each law enforcement motorcycle regularly used to make motor vehicle [traffic and pedestrian] stops is equipped with transmitter-activated equipment; and
(B) each motor vehicle [traffic and pedestrian] stop made by an officer employed by the agency that is capable of being recorded by video and audio or audio equipment, as appropriate, is recorded by using the equipment; or
(2) the governing body of the county or municipality served by the law enforcement agency, in conjunction with the law enforcement agency, certifies to the Department of Public Safety, not later than the date specified by rule by the department, that the law enforcement agency needs funds or video and audio equipment for the purpose of installing video and audio equipment as described by Subsection (a)(1)(A) and the agency does not receive from the state funds or video and audio equipment sufficient, as determined by the department, for the agency to accomplish that purpose.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They still have to report basic data to the repository under 2.132. That exemption applies to the contraband and arrest breakdown data elements I mentioned in the post. I'd prefer they had been made mandatory, but for the time being getting the state to maintain the data and enforce reporting requirements is a big step forward.

PirateFriedman said...

If blacks are being stopped more than whites even though they have less contraband, what does that really mean?

It could mean that the police are making a concerted effort to stop crime in black neighborhoods. In a well intention effort to reduce crime in minority neighborhoods, they are stopping more cars. So perhaps this is not a bias against black offenders but a bias against white victims.

At any rate, another government program, more of our dollars down the drain...