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Crime & Justice

Pflugerville police stopped and searched Black drivers at a disproportionate rate last year

A Pflugerville police car is parked on a street in Pflugerville.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A report out of the Pflugerville Police Department shows Black people accounted for 26% of stops last year, despite only making up 15% of the city's population.

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Pflugerville police stopped and searched Black drivers at a disproportionate rate last year, according to a report released by the department last month.

Black people make up about 15% of the city’s population but accounted for 26% of all stops in 2021. In contrast, white people made up 33% of total stops, although 40% of the Pflugerville population is white. The stop rate of Hispanic people was about even with their population in the city at 31%. The report says racial profiling “cannot be proved” based on these numbers.

Elizabeth Luh, a postdoctoral fellow with the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System project at the University of Michigan, says that’s correct, but if you look at how many searches resulted in the discovery of contraband — a process called the “hit rate test” — there’s evidence of bias.

The report shows that Black residents were searched more than white and Hispanic residents despite being stopped less than both groups. Contraband was discovered on Black people who were searched by police about 60% of the time. Police found contraband on 64% of the white drivers who were searched. Of the Hispanic drivers who were searched, about 67% had contraband.

“If you were to use the hit rate test, this would say that there’s bias,” Luh said. “If there wasn’t bias, then these police officers, in this case, are over-searching Black people.”

Alicia Jackson, president of the advocacy organization Black Pflugerville, says she has not heard about issues with racial profiling in Pflugerville. But she says the data regarding what happens to Black drivers after they are stopped is concerning.

“When you start looking at what comes after the stop — like the citations and warnings — there seems to be bias in who gets a citation versus who gets a warning versus who gets arrested,” Jackson said. “Based on this report, it looks like Black Pflugervillians have been arrested at a higher rate.”

Police issued fewer citations to Black drivers than to white or Hispanic drivers but were more likely to be arrested.

The most common reason Black drivers were searched was for “probable cause.” Nearly 75% of searches of Black drivers were done for this reason — which is higher than the percentages of white and Hispanic people who were searched for “probable cause.” Jackson says this number stood out to her.

“It’s really concerning because that is a very subjective viewpoint, I guess, when you’re doing a traffic stop,” Jackson said.

Pflugerville Police Chief Jason O’Malley says he is “confident officers are doing the right thing” and the department does not believe the success rate of searches indicates bias. He says the department received zero complaints about racial profiling last year.

“While we believe this does not show racial bias, we will continue to increase and improve the training that’s available to our officers, evaluate policies and strive towards greater equity as our community grows,” O’Malley said in an email.

The report says officers knew the race of the driver less than 1% of the time. Luh says this number is questionable, as there are other indicators that could lead to officers knowing the race of a driver, such as location and the type of vehicle. But overall, she says, the report is thorough.

Jackson says she believes Pflugerville police officers are doing a good job, but that there’s always room for improvement.

“There may not be reports or incidents [of racial bias],” she says, “but doing things right and doing things ethically might not be the same thing.”

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