Black drivers more likely to be pulled over by HPD for non-moving violations, report shows

Rosie Nguyen Image
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Are Black drivers more likely to be pulled over? Here's data shows
The Texas Civil Rights Project reveals data suggesting that Houston police officers pull over Black drivers at higher rates for non-moving violations.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new study released by the Texas Civil Rights Project shows alarming data when it comes to racial disparities in non-moving traffic stops conducted by Houston police officers. The latest numbers show that the problem could be getting worse in our area.

13 Investigates dug into this issue three years ago, just months after the death of George Floyd. At the time, the data showed that there were no disparities in how often Black drivers were being pulled over in Houston compared to their white counterparts. However, they were more likely to be searched.

RELATED: 'Driving while Black': Analysis shows racial disparities in several cities

But, according to the Safe Passage: Traffic Safety and Civil Rights report, Black drivers are now three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts for a non-moving violation, such as expired plates, unpaid tolls, or broken tail lights.

It also found that Black drivers are six times more likely to be arrested during a non-moving traffic stop, seven times more likely to have their cars searched, and 26 times more likely to get injured if there is use-of-force by officers.

"It's oftentimes much more dangerous for Black, brown, and low-income drivers," Christopher Rivera, outreach coordinator for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said. "We noticed there was a plethora of traffic stop deaths across the state. In 2021, there were two murders by HPD. So we began investigating this issue and looking into what improves public safety on the road."

When asked for a response to the study, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department referenced its Racing Profiling General Order and 2022 Annual Racial Profiling report.

"The Houston Police Department (HPD) prohibits the practice of racial profiling and has established policies, provided training to its officers, and instituted a process to monitor traffic stops. Discrimination in any form, including racial profiling, is strictly prohibited, and the department will take immediate and appropriate action to investigate allegations of discrimination," the report states.

Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, said race doesn't have any bearing on traffic stops.

"You have to understand that our department requires a certain amount of traffic stops every day per officer. We have more officers in high-crime neighborhoods. Sadly, most of those high-crime neighborhoods are low-income and minority communities. They have a larger call volume. Therefore, they're going to have more traffic stops," Griffith said. "On top of that, most of the time, we don't know who we're stopping until we approach that vehicle. With dark tinted windows or stopping people at night - all these things come into play."

Advocates disagree. They believe that judgments made by officers are frequently informed by racial biases, the type of car a person is driving, or the neighborhood where the stop occurs.

Rivera expressed that TCRP will be advocating for the City of Houston to pass an ordinance prohibiting HPD from conducting non-safety traffic stops. It's similar to San Francisco's Police Commission voting to end pretextual traffic stops and Philadelphia passing the Driving Equality Act to limit non-safety traffic stops.

The organization would also like to see a voucher program to help low-income drivers get their cars up to code. Cities like San Antonio and Baton Rouge have implemented a "Lights On" program where police officers issue vouchers instead of citations for drivers with busted tail lights.

"We saw several research points that show there is no correlation between non-safety traffic stops and road fatalities. What actually causes real fatalities are speeding, driving on the wrong side of the road, running red lights, as well as drunk driving," Rivera said. "If police are really out there to promote public safety, they should be focusing on that instead."

You can read the full Safe Passage: Traffic Safety and Civil Rights report below.

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