First Look

Why are Texas troopers identifying Hispanic drivers as 'white'?

Racial profiling miscount? A news investigation found that Texas state troopers have been misidentifying minority drivers as 'white,' with Hispanics being the most common group. 

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    Texas State Trooper Corey Brasher gives directions to a motorist at a roadblock in 2011 in Graford, Texas, during a wildfire. A new report says Texas state troopers are describing Hispanic drivers as 'white' in police reports.
    (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Sonya N. Hebert)
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Texas state troopers stopped more than 1.2 million "white" people during traffic stops last year, but a new report says many of them were actually Hispanic, casting doubts on the state’s racial profiling information.

Austin’s KXAN-TV conducted a database review of millions of records pulled from the Texas Department of Safety, showing the inaccurate reporting of Hispanic drivers’ race. The records go back to 2010 and found that the number of Hispanic drivers in documented traffic stops has gone up since that year, from about 208,000 to 351,000 last year.

But due to the way the data was collected, the number of Hispanic traffic stops may be much higher. 

Meanwhile, the number of documented white drivers stopped during traffic decreased – from 1.9 million to about 1.2 million last year.

In Texas, there’s a state law that requires officers to record the race of drivers for any warning, citation, or arrest at traffic stops as a preventative measure against racial profiling. In the documents, “white” and “hispanic” are listed as two separate categories.

"It is imperative that the citation count is accurately recorded and reported by all police officers that interact with the public,” Alex del Carmen, executive director of the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, said.

“This is the only manner in which we can ensure an accurate representation of motor vehicle stops and trends."

The most common ticketed names from the records are Garcia, Martinez, Rodriguez and Hernandez – traditionally Hispanic names. Though a non-Hispanic white person can have a Hispanic surname, the records reveal that over 1.9 million drivers with these names were listed as white, while 1.6 million were listed as Hispanic.

KXAN-TV says the data suggests Texas police racial profiling data is inaccurate. 

"It shows that there either seems to be a complete lack of training on the part of DPS officers and other law enforcement officers about how to report people's race,” Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said.

“Or,” he added, “there is deliberate, sort of trying to not follow the policy if they have been trained properly on how to report the race of the drivers whom they stop," Natarajan said.

Hispanics aren’t the only minorities being reported as white in such records.

Richard Kai-Tzung Chang, of Taiwan, received a ticket from a trooper last April. In his records, his race was stated as white.

“I was shocked,” Chang told KXAN. “It's almost incomprehensible that I could be mistaken for a white male because I don't look anything like a white male.”

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in a statement that the categories of race and ethnicity are confusing, as a ethnically Hispanic person can be white.

“It is important to note that potential errors in the designation of race or ethnicity by an officer does not in any way translate to racial profiling – and any attempt to draw a direct correlation between potential data errors and conducting racial profiling is simply illogical and reckless,” he wrote. ‘We would urge KXAN not to misconstrue this issue as racial profiling for all the reasons outlined in our response.”

 
 
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