New training for Bellaire officers

February 3, 2009 4:01:06 PM PST
A city accused of racial profiling is putting its officers through new training. It's a major development in the shooting of a black man in the city of Bellaire. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The New Year's Eve shooting outraged members of the community. Those training classes are just one of the things Bellaire's mayor says they will do to look for signs of racial profiling.

Since the shooting of Bellaire resident Robbie Tolan outside his home by a Bellaire police officer, the city's police department has repeatedly been the target of claims that its officers profile motorists because of their race.

Attorney Geoff Berg represents the Tolan family.

"The goal here is to end it," said Berg. "The goal here is to make sure that what happened to Robbie Tolan doesn't happen to anyone else."

Mayor Cindy Siegel, who calls the allegations disheartening and disconcerting, is turning to an outside consultant for help. An independent expert, one of the first to conduct and publish studies on racial profiling, has been hired to review traffic stops for any signs of racial profiling by police.

"We're doing that because we want a second set of eyes and determine maybe we've missed some kind of trend," said Mayor Siegel.

As Bellaire continues to grow more diverse, some question whether the police department is reflective of the population it serves. We've learned out of 39 uniformed officers, two are African-American, 13 are Hispanic and three are women. While the state mandates racial profiling and cultural sensitivity training, Bellaire police will take additional courses.

"Even if it's just a perception, we need to be addressing it and taking steps to respond accordingly," said the mayor.

Berg couldn't agree more.

"We need to keep a very close eye on it," he said. "People who have been expressing their concern about Bellaire to Bellaire ought to keep it up."

There may be as many as 10,000 traffic stops to review. A report will be handed over to city council in March.

We worked on this story through our partnership with Houston Community Newspapers. You can read more about it in the Bellaire Examiner, one of our Houston Community Newspaper partners.

Racial profiling is illegal in Texas, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. According to a report by the University of Texas and commissioned by several civil rights groups, six out of seven law enforcement agencies in Texas search blacks and Hispanics more often than whites. The agencies looked at numbers collected from over 400 agencies across the state.

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