Blacks and Hispanics still are being subjected to traffic searches at higher rates than whites by Austin police and other Texas law enforcement agencies, reports the Austin American-Statesman. A new study of 2003 data from 1,060 Texas agencies, concludes that not much has changed in the almost four years since a state law began requiring departments to record the ethnicity of people stopped and searched. Blacks are more than three times as likely to be searched by Austin police than whites, and Hispanics are 2.3 times more likely to be searched – a slight increase over last year’s statistics, says the report by Steward Research Group of Austin.
Statewide, two-thirds of law enforcement agencies reported searching minorities at higher rates than whites during traffic stops. The report showed that statewide, whites were at least as likely as minorities to be found with illegal goods. The report calls for a closer look at “consent searches” – when an officer needs permission from the owner to examine a vehicle. If a person refuses to give consent, police can detain the driver until a drug-sniffing dog arrives, which can take hours, or arrest the person for almost any fine-only offense, such as failing to use a turn signal. Tom Gaylor of the Texas Municipal Police Association complained that the study “doesn’t take into consideration all of the factors that influence an officer when he decides he needs to search a vehicle. There are many other factors other than race.”