The author of Texas’ racial profiling law says a new study may help lawmakers change the way police departments report traffic data to find officers who target black and Hispanic drivers, the Dallas Morning News reports. Annual profiling reports often show that blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately stopped and searched. But police departments and civil rights groups say the data collected don’t show why drivers are searched, whether the searches yield any contraband, or even why the drivers are pulled over. “The question is, what does it mean?” said state Sen. Royce West, who proposed the law in 2001. “I’m getting sick and tired of just getting data where we can’t draw any conclusions.”
Though the state hoped to shed light on a widely debated issue with the law, the flawed methods have “inflamed rather than lessened passions,” said the University of North Texas. The study examined nearly 7,000 traffic stops in five places from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15. Officers were asked not only to write down the reasons for the stop, search and arrest, but also the driver’s demeanor, the car’s condition and whether the officer could determine the driver’s race before pulling him or her over. The results mirrored the findings of many racial profiling reports: Blacks and Hispanics were at least twice as likely as whites to be searched after traffic stops. The report offered more detail about why drivers were stopped and searched that could help the state explain whether the disparity is the result of profiling or legitimate law enforcement practices. The searches are “probably going to be mostly fruitless, but they have to do it to protect the officer,” said Dr. Eric Fritsch, a University of North Texas criminal justice professor.