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Racial Profiling Report Reveals Fewer Stops, But Questions Remain

An annual report states traffic stops fell last year.
Photo courtesy
An annual report states traffic stops fell last year.

A report on racial profiling shows the number of people stopped by the Austin Police Department for traffic violations dropped in 2011.

In 2011, police executed 5,050 vehicle searches on Hispanics, 3,505 searches on whites, and 3,037 searches on African-Americans.

“Austin police officers made 179,882 motor vehicle stops in 2011 compared to 232,848 in 2010,” the report reads:

The primary reason for a motor vehicle stop is a traffic violation such as speeding, an illegal turn, expired registration and other violations of the transportation code. Overall, the number of stops is lower in 2011, in part, because the Highway Enforcement Command shifted its mission from citywide traffic enforcement to a focus on the major highways such as IH-35, MoPac and 183. As a consequence, the number of traffic citations declined from 224,662 in 2010 to 165,757 in 2011, a 26% reduction. The overall number of motor vehicle stops also decreased by 23%.

Searches resulting from vehicles also went down: from 19,519 in 2010 to 11,719 in 2011, a 40% drop. “The decrease in searches is related to two issues,” the report states, one being statistical:

First, vehicle searches were included in the 2010 analysis, but were not included in 2009 or 2011. Unlike person searches, the way the information is captured in the APD database makes it impossible to definitively link a vehicle search to a specific person when there are multiple persons involved in the traffic stop. Removing the vehicle searches in 2011 reduced the overall number of searches.  The second issue is related to the chief’s numerous conversations with officers throughout the  department in 2010 where he emphasized the importance of being deliberative when making the  decision about conducting a search. He asked officers to be aware of whether or not they could articulate the facts that would justify the search. We believe the directive to pause and critically assess the circumstances present prior to initiating a search also contributed to the reduction in the overall number of searches.

Jim Harrington is director of the non-profit The Texas Civil Rights Project. He says the report shows the Austin Police Department made some improvements in reducing racial profiling, but he’s still concerned about what the Police Department calls “consent searches.”

“Often people don’t know they have the right to refuse a search. And often the police intimidate people so that they consent to searches. And of course when you talk about people consenting to search that tries to relieve the police of responsibility in terms of profiling, because they’re simply saying, we had consent to do it.”

You can view the report online at the City of Austin’s website. 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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