The Texas Department of Public Safety is doing an about face when it comes to how troopers collect race data during traffic stops. The change comes after the DPS director ordered state troopers to ask for drivers to identify their race. But that strategy backfired as experts anticipated.
In a memo sent today to all DPS troopers, director Steven McCraw instructs troopers to stop asking drivers their race. McCraw initially ordered troopers to ask in response to KXAN’s investigation uncovering DPS troopers inaccurately recording the race of large numbers of minority drivers, mostly Hispanic as white.
But the state's leading expert in racial profiling criticized the move, saying it could put officers in a difficult position and lead to costly lawsuits.
We spoke to the head of the Department of Public Safety Officers Association, Sgt. Gary Chandler today.
"The troopers did what the director said, but it just didn't go very smoothly. Some people got offended and it put the trooper in a bad situation," Sgt. Chandler explained.
DPS blamed a flaw in their in-car computer system for the inaccurate reporting we uncovered but at the same time acknowledged troopers have been instructed and trained to manually enter the race of drivers stopped.
Today's new directive orders troopers to record what they believe is the race of the driver, and give each motorist driver the chance to confirm or object to the race category selected when they sign the citation.
DPS says it will also institute new audit procedures to regularly test the accuracy of the data.
Statement from DPS:
Based upon the Director's personal observations and feedback from Troopers, the department has modified the policy to mitigate the problems Troopers were experiencing by asking the motorist about their race or ethnicity on the side of the road. There is no question that motorists who were already upset became more upset, which contradicts the department's goal to deescalate potentially volatile contacts with the public.
Additionally, Troopers were having to spend far more time in the danger zone (driver side of the vehicle closest to passing traffic) on Texas highways explaining to motorists why it was necessary for them to provide information on their race or ethnicity. The department is mindful that in Texas and throughout the nation vehicle crashes kill and injure more officers than handguns. This not only endangers officers, it also places motorists at risk.
Extending the duration of the traffic stop to explain the reason why it is necessary to ask for the driver's race or ethnicity increases this risk to both officer and motorist.
Tom Vinger - Press Secretary, Texas Department of Public Safety Media and Communications Office
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