While a new study released this month notes some improvements, African Americans and Latinos are still more likely than Anglos to be targets of traffic stops and searches in Texas. The report, issued by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) and the Campaign to End Racial Profiling, based their findings on data made available from over 200 police agencies throughout the state during the year 2005.

The data collected is a result of a state-mandated racial profiling law enacted in 2001. This year, the TCJC focused their research on so-called consent searches. The results showed an uneven application of enforcement procedures by officers statewide and a clear bias for police to request consent searches of minority drivers.

The problem with ‘consent’

Consent searches, considered by many to be a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, are requests made by police during traffic stops. The officer requires no evidence of wrongdoing or probable cause, and the request may be as casual as an off-handed, “Mind if I have a look?”

The problem is that many citizens do not know that they have a legal right to decline such a search, or that they have the right to stop the search once it is in progress. Police are not required to inform drivers they may refuse the search.

Disparities throughout the state

The TCJC report indicated that in 2005, 72 percent of all reporting police agencies consent-searched African Americans more frequently than they did Anglos. Some 56 percent reported they consent-searched Latinos more frequently than Anglos, a slight drop from the previous year’s rate. But the study found that consent searches overall were up 3 percent, accounting for 33 percent of all police searches.

“These findings do not suggest that Anglos are being consent searched less frequently — far from it. Instead they suggest that minorities are being consent searched more frequently by most agencies,” the report stated.

The disparity from one agency to another is wide. For instance, in the Dallas suburbs of Garland and Richardson, Blacks were one and a half times more likely to be consent searched than Anglos, while in Plano, which shares borders with those towns, African Americans were two and a half times more frequently searched.

Some improvements made

Some areas of Texas showed improvement, indicating the positive effect of TCJC’s campaign against profiling. In 2003, the Edinburg Police Department in South Texas was searching Blacks more than three times and Latinos more than two times as often as Anglos. After tracking data for three years and implementing signed consent forms as recommended by TCJC, the rates have dropped dramatically. In fact, the most recent numbers now indicate that Edinburg is less likely to request a consent search of a Latino driver than an Anglo driver.

Unfortunately, all of the urban areas of the state still report wildly discriminatory numbers. Minorities in Houston, Dallas and Austin are still more than one and a half to greater than three times more likely to be asked to submit to consent searches than are Anglo drivers.

The report also included recommendations that would aid law enforcement in their efforts to accurately report data and model policy language for written consent-to-search forms.

The full report is available at .

perry5 @ swbell.net