Brian Collister and Joe Ellis, KXAN (Austin), November 9, 2015
DPS troopers are inaccurately recording the race of large numbers of minority drivers, mostly Hispanic, as white, according to a KXAN investigation. The agency’s traffic stop data reveals racial profiling reports are likely flawed, according to experts.
Sergio Raul Mejia got a traffic citation for having his license plate on the dash of his truck in Georgetown last May. The Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who pulled Mejia over put his race as white on the ticket.
“That’s bad,” said Mejia. “I’m Hispanic. He was not supposed to put white people,” Mejia continued, speaking in broken English. “You don’t think you look white?” asked KXAN Investigator Brian Collister. “No, Hispanic,” replied Mejia.
A Texas law aimed at preventing racial profiling requires peace officers determine and document the race of every driver to whom they issue a written warning, traffic citation or arrest during a traffic stop. 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.
But a KXAN investigation discovered DPS troopers across the state are inaccurately reporting the race of minority drivers who are African American, Asian, but mostly Hispanic, as white. KXAN uncovered the discrepancies while reviewing more than 16 million DPS traffic citation records dating back to 2010.
Richard Kai-Tzung Chang got a traffic ticket in Austin from a DPS Trooper last April. Chang is from Taiwan and says he believes its obvious he is Asian. But the trooper documented him as white on the citation.
“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,” Chang continued.
Dominique Deshaun McGrew was arrested last April during a traffic stop near Victoria. In the dashcam video it’s clear that McGrew is African American. But instead of recording him as black, the trooper recorded him as white.
Pastor Gonzalez Sosa was pulled over for speeding earlier this year in Caldwell County. In the dashcam video obtained by KXAN through an open records request, Sosa speaks Spanish to the trooper and tells him he is from Mexico. But the Hispanic trooper, who also speaks Spanish, documented Sosa’s race as white on the citation.
DPS statistics unreliable
KXAN showed the findings to Professor Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.
“I think there could be accidents every now and then, but the sheer number of the reports that you found, where it looks like the people who are not white are being classified as white, means that there is something else going on here,” Natarajan said.
The professor also believes what we uncovered reveals DPS racial profiling statistics are unreliable.
“It’s very disturbing,” Natarajan said. “What it shows is 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. Or 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.”
An analysis by KXAN of the DPS traffic stop data shows the five most common last names of drivers stopped and recorded as white by troopers are: Smith, followed by Garcia, Martinez, Hernandez, Gonzalez and Rodriguez.
Although not everyone with a Hispanic last name is of Hispanic descent, KXAN discovered the DPS data shows more than 1.9 million drivers with traditionally Hispanic names listed as white over the past five years. For the same time period, approximately 1.6 million were reported as Hispanic.