Hearing focuses on Texas troopers wrongly recording drivers’ race

Photos obtained from state and local agencies, as well as social media, showing non-white men and women who have been ticketed as white
Photos obtained from state and local agencies, as well as social media, showing non-white men and women who have been ticketed as white

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A KXAN investigation uncovered that DPS Troopers are recording minority drivers as white during traffic stops. This case will go before a State House Committee Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers are trying to figure out if they need to take up new legislation during the upcoming session. KXAN’s investigation showed how state troopers and local police are supposed to record the race of drivers pulled over in traffic stops to the best of their ability. However, KXAN found DPS recorded more than 1.9 million drivers with traditionally Hispanic last names as white.

State Representative Garnet Coleman has called for a hearing in the House Committee on County Affairs, which he chairs.  Law enforcement agencies are required by law to collect race data to show whether officers are racially profiling drivers.

After KXAN’s reports last year, the Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw blamed a problem on a glitch in the in-car computer system troopers use. Representative Coleman told KXAN his committee plans to figure out if the DPS computer system can have a more clear and simple way to record someone’s race.

Sergio Raul Mejia got a traffic citation for having his license plate on the dash of his truck in Georgetown in May of 2015. The Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who pulled Mejia over put his race as white on the ticket.

The statute says officers must report: “the person’s race or ethnicity, as stated by the person or, if the person does not state the person’s race or ethnicity, as determined by the officer to the best of the officer’s ability.” White and Hispanic are just two categories listed in the law, which treats race and ethnicity the same for purposes of gathering the statistics.

Another KXAN investigation found a similar problem with the Austin Police Department. Chief Art Acevedo ordered an independent review of his department’s data collection after KXAN’s investigation found APD searches one in six black drivers’ cars.

Changes are now underway in how officers collect information showing the race of the people they ticket or arrest during traffic stops. Officers must now confirm race, not once, but twice on their in-car computer system. Supervisors will also periodically check to see if officers are recording the wrong race of the drivers they stop.

The hearing gets underway at 10 a.m.

KXAN investigator Brian Collister will be at the hearing and will explain what the lawmakers will need to do to make changes tonight on KXAN. 

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