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Texas Bill Would Put An End To Sandra Bland-Like Traffic Stops

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The Texas Tribune
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Sandra Bland

African Americans are 75 times more likely to be pulled over and searched by a police officer than a white driver, that’s according to 2012 national study published by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Some members of the Texas House of Representatives County Affairs committee are convinced, Texas is no exception.

Which is one of the reasons the committee’s Chairman  Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, says he’s authoring a bill for the legislative session beginning in January.  It will call for an end to pretext stops. 

That’s when a police officer pulls over a driver on a minor traffic stop, then asks to search the driver’s vehicle.

“Which is being defined as a 'stop and frisk' in a car," Coleman says. "And these are things where I think we start to see disparities that lend themselves as being viewed as profiling of certain individuals.”

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Garnet Coleman

Coleman believes that’s what happened when former DPS Trooper Brian Encina pulled over Sandra Bland for an improper lane change.  The trooper asked her to step out of the car.

Bland was later found hanging in her cell after jail staff failed to list her as a potential risk for suicide.

Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, says Trooper Encina  mishandled Bland’s case.

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Credit Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune
Steve McCraw at the Sandra Bland hearing.

“It was inappropriate, it was rude," he said.

"He broke policy, but we know he did we just don’t know if others have acted in the same way,” Coleman said.

While McCraw says his agency doesn’t track these pretext stops, Coleman says there’s data that shows a significant racial disparity in how often minorities are stopped by law enforcement.  That’s why Coleman says the legislature needs to strengthen the state’s anti-racial profiling laws.