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Criminal Justice

Report: Police In Texas Most Likely To Search Latinos, But Most Often Find Contraband On Whites

The data analysis was conducted by researchers from the Institute for Predictive Analytics in Criminal Justice, a relatively new outfit housed at Tarleton State University that includes researchers from across the Texas A&M University system.

Alex del Carmen heads the institute. He's an expert on racial profiling who has trained countless police officers and chiefs across Texas on proper policing practices.

Breaking down what happens at police stops by race and ethnicity is useful for identifying where potential racial profiling is taking place, and detailed data can help improve policing and justice, del Carmen said. While the data are indicative, del Carmen points out that they are only a partial picture of the millions of stops conducted by police in Texas.

The data show that non-Hispanic white people are stopped most often by law enforcement officers in Texas. That’s to be expected, since they're also the largest racial or ethnic group in the state.

What isn’t expected, del Carmen said, is that Latino people were the most likely to be searched after they’ve been stopped by police.

“That is very, very significant,” he said.

Even more significant is the effectiveness of those searches.

While the researchers found that nearly 39% of people searched were Latino, just 32% of people found with contraband during a search were Latino. Whites accounted for 36% of searches that turned up illegal items..

That means that even though Latino people were most likely to be searched, police were actually more likely find contraband, like illegal drugs or weapons, when whites were searched.

“So here you have a scenario where whites are being stopped the most, Hispanics are being searched the most, but whites are the ones where contraband is being found the most," del Carmen said.

That discrepancy could mean that a lot more innocent Latino people are being subjected to searches than white people are, an invasive and often demeaning process, which can damage trust in police.

The data may be an indication that bias is driving officers to search Latinos more often than whites, del Carmen said. In a world free from bias, the rates of finding contraband during a search would be roughly similar for all groups.

“We have no way of getting into the officer’s brain and figuring out what the intention of that officer was, whether the officer intended to make a legitimate stop or if the officer was making a stop as a result of some racist factor,” he said. “But what we all agree with across America is that the result of the search is telling.”

Even though whites were most likely to be found with illegal items during a search, they were also less likely to be arrested for it than Latinos or Blacks, according to the data.

Del Carmen points out that there are limitations to the data, so the conclusions of the study are preliminary and need further research.

About 20% of Texas departments did not submit data on police stops that contained enough detail to be included in the report. Next year, all police departments will be required to submit that more granular data.

Also, Texas’ Department of Public Safety does not ask for ethnicity on drivers’ licenses, leaving it up to individual officers to identify whether the individual who is stopped is Latino. That discretion could reduce the accuracy of the data.

The state also no longer accounts for people of Middle Eastern descent on police forms tracking demographics, Del Carmen said, only allowing officers to choose between white, Black, Asian American, Hispanic or Native American.

The report notes that the sheer volume of police stops between 2019 and 2020 decreased by roughly 41%. In 2019, police made nearly 10.7 million stops across Texas. In 2020, that number was down to about 6.3 million stops.

The pandemic is likely the main cause of reduced police stops.

The report also notes finds that “widespread use of physical force” was not detected. About 1% of cases involved force.

About 45% of stops were made on city streets rather than rural roadways, freeways or interstates.

Read the full report:


Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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