Report on Bellaire police stops released

March 2, 2009 4:05:37 PM PST
Bellaire city council members are getting their first look at a long-awaited report on traffic stops in the city. It's information which some residents argue shows racial profiling by the police department. [READ THE REPORT: Take a look at the report released Monday afternoon]

It's a topic that has community leaders fired up following a controversial police shooting on New Year's Eve. Robbie Tolan was shot by a Bellaire police officer after police mistakenly thought he was driving a stolen vehicle. His family feels it was a clear case of racial profiling.

The city of Bellaire says in a written statement that it takes the allegations of racial profiling seriously. Just how seriously? You decide. Not a single city official would respond to our repeated calls asking them about the report's findings.

The 76-page report does not make any conclusion about whether there has been racial profiling by the Bellaire Police Department, despite what some say is data that proves there is.

"The overwhelming majority of people pulled over in a nearly 90 percent white city are African-Americans and Hispanics," said attorney Geoff Berg, who represents Tolan.

Tolan is the Bellaire resident who was unarmed and shot December 31 in his own front yard.

Berg points specifically to numbers contained in the report, showing the breakdown by race and percentage of traffic stops in Bellaire.

In 2008, 23 percent of the stops were of African-American drivers and 33 percent were Hispanic. Over the last seven years, there was a similar trend. Twenty percent of those stopped were African-American and 38 percent Hispanic.

That's in a city with an Hispanic population of 8 percent, where blacks comprise less than one percent of residents.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," said Berg. "It is simply a matter of statistical truth.

Certainly folks who don't live in Bellaire pass though it every day, changing the demographics of those actually in the city at any given time. The city's study notes, though, that in the greater Houston area, only 21 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of African-Americans have access to vehicles.

So do the numbers amount to racial profiling?

"I don't think it's fair," said Karen Fulce, who's concerned about profiling. "But I do believe it happens here."

"Yeah, it makes me wonder if they are profiling," added Juan Santiago, who questions the study.

Conclusions of the report were scheduled to be discussed before city council Monday night at 7pm.

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