Data released this week from the Houston Police Department shows that they are pulling over blacks at a higher rate than any other racial group. But the department, and others, caution that this isn’t necessarily evidence of profiling.
According to the Houston Chronicle, HPD pulled over 494,000 people in 2010. Black residents made up 33% of this figure, though they only represent 23% of the total population. Hispanics, who make up 44% of Houston, accounted for 32% of the stops, and whites accounted for 30%.
Nearly everyone knows about racial profiling and has heard of the unwritten offense “Driving While Black” (DWB), a certain way to get pulled over. But can this account for the disparity among Houston police stops or is there more to it?
According to criminal justice experts, police presence is more concentrated in areas where crime is most frequent. Largely these areas are poverty stricken and most often dominated by minorities. Sure the reasons for this are complex and worthy of a lengthy discussion themselves but the HPD and others cite this as the reason for the disparate figures, not racial profiling.
“Police tend to parole more frequently in African-American neighborhoods, and in minority neighborhoods in general, and tend to make more stops in minority neighborhoods,” says Clete Snell, the chairman of the criminal justice department of U of H. He goes on to make an important point, “If you’ve been pulled over by the police multiple times in a year and haven’t done anything wrong, that doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth about police. It’s a source of angst with the minority population.”
When compared with whites and Hispanics, blacks make up the smallest population of Houston residents. Not all stops are being executed in low income or minority neighborhoods, so even if this does play a role in the arrest rates, one wouldn’t think it could account for such a large disparity.
The data from HPD is released every year in an effort to combat racial profiling and to keep police accountable. The head of the Houston Police Officer’s Union doesn’t believe the figures are a good way to track profiling, however, because “there are so many outside factors that can skew the data.”
Last year there were only two complaints of racial profiling to HPD and neither were followed up on or investigated.
Perhaps there are some officers out there who profile and hassle people because of their race. But more likely is a departmental culture that has fallen victim to stereotyping. Though they might not target someone specifically because they are black, they might be more likely to suspect them or keep a closer eye on them without a conscious profiling intention.
Whether you’ve been profiled or if you are simply facing charges you don’t believe are fair, a local defense attorney can be your advocate in the courts. From analyzing the facts of your arrest to ensuring your side of the story is heard, we can help.
Contact our Texas criminal defense lawyers for a consultation on your case today.