AUSTIN - State lawmakers and law enforcement officials squared off Tuesday at the Texas Capitol over profiling.
The conversation has grown heated following the death of Sandra Bland. The 28-year-old African-American teacher was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in 2015, but the stop escalated, landing Bland in a Texas county jail. Her death in custody three days later sparked a national outcry.
"There's so many issues in our law enforcement and criminal justice system right now. It talks about all of them," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). "Pretext stops, the use of searches, the disparity between races, the fact that black folks are treated differently than white Texans, how our jails prevent suicide and what actions should be used to do so -- all of these things that are questions that we all have."
Coleman, who chairs the Texas House County Affairs Committee, plans to file the "Sandra Bland Act" when the Texas Legislature returns. The legislation will include stopping so-called "pretext stops," referred to by some as "driving while black."
A study by University of North Carolina Professor Frank Baumgartner found black male drivers are 59 percent more likely to be searched by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and are pulled over most often for going a few miles over the speed limit. Testifying Tuesday, Baumgartner pointed out that the statistics are not unique to Texas. Over 53 reports covering nine state police agencies, African-American motorists are, on average, 86 percent more likely to be searched.
"Racial profiling is highly unproductive," DPS director Steve McCraw told the committee Tuesday. Defending his troopers, McCraw argued overall traffic stops are down and that the study ignored the ongoing border surge.
Coleman believes if the behavior found in the study is unintentional, and therefore fails to meet the legal definition of racial profiling, then the code should be changed. Exchanges between the two grew tense, as each accused the other of "cherry-picking" data.
"If you don't take into account that we've taken substantial man hours of troopers from everywhere else in the state and moved them into an area where the demographics is over 90 percent Hispanic, it's ridiculous," McCraw told Coleman.
"That does not take away the fact that there is a disparity in what happens to someone who's black when they're stopped by a trooper," Coleman retorted, "Now come on, man!"
"We know there's a disparity. It's not even a question," Coleman told KVUE. "This is done under academic rigor, based on a million records."
Asked if he disagrees with the data, McCraw told KVUE, "We'd have to look at it. We haven't seen the doctor's analysis, but certainly, we'll look at it, and like I indicated before the committee, clearly we focus not on racial profiling, we profile based on behavior, because there's great value in doing that, but if there's some disparities, or if the data doesn't look, those are indicators, we're going to follow up on it."
Coleman and McCraw also discussed deescalation. The department has prepared 76 hours of de-escalation training in the wake of the Bland incident, which resulted in a settlement with Bland's family. McCraw told reporters Tuesday that the training is needed.
"Yes, I think it's necessary," said McCraw. "I think cultural training is necessary. Bias training is necessary. Everyone comes to the job with their own prejudices, and you've got to recognize that, and frankly there's prejudice against police officers as well," "But at the end of the day the police officer, the Texas state trooper has to be professional."
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