Texas state troopers have begun asking motorists their race and ethnicity after it was discovered that drivers — mostly Hispanics — were often misidentified during traffic stops due to flaws in a system meant to guard against racial profiling.
Texas state troopers have begun asking motorists their race and ethnicity after it was discovered that drivers — mostly Hispanics — were often misidentified during traffic stops because of flaws in an automated system meant to guard against racial profiling.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a state House committee that the change took effect Wednesday in an attempt to gather more accurate data.
“What we can do better, and what we should have been doing better, is collect the data accurately as it relates to Hispanics. Plain and simple … I would rather a trooper not have to ask,” McCraw told lawmakers, according to a transcript of the hearing. “But if the data doesn’t work … there is a problem.”
KXAN-TV in Austin conducted a database review using millions of records going back to 2010 that showed troopers across the state inaccurately reported the race of Hispanic drivers.
The television station’s investigation of DPS traffic citation records also found the number of drivers stopped by troopers and recorded as Hispanic has gone up annually since 2010 — from nearly 208,000 to 351,000 last year — while the number of drivers recorded as white declined in the same time period from 1.9 million to about 1.2 million last year, the Associated Press reported.
Among the most common surnames of drivers listed by troopers as white are Garcia, Martinez, Hernandez, Gonzalez and Rodriguez. While a Hispanic name doesn’t necessarily mean a person is of Hispanic descent, the review of DPS records showed more than 1.9 million drivers with traditionally Hispanic names were listed as white. Over the same period, approximately 1.6 million were reported as Hispanic.
In an effort to guard against racial profiling, state law requires authorities to document the race of drivers who are arrested, issued warnings or citations. But McCraw testified that coding on drivers licenses only allowed for identification as Hispanic since 2010. Prior to that time, Hispanic motorists were often identified as white.
McCraw told lawmakers that he did not know how much it would cost to fix the automated system, leaving no other remedy but to direct troopers to specifically ask for the information.
“Officers will advise the individual that the officer is required by law to inquire as to the individual’s race or ethnicity,” a DPS memo outlining the new policy stated. “The officer will record the race or ethnicity as stated by the motorist. Only in cases where an individual refuses to provide the requested information and the database reflects their race or ethnicity as ‘other,’ will the officer use best judgment or ability to determine the race or ethnicity of the motorists.”
Despite the current lack of data, McCraw maintained that the agency does not tolerate racial profiling.
“Bottom line, it’s against the law,” he said. “There is no racial profiling within the DPS.”
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