Traffic Stops and Racial Profiling Data

Texas Law Enforcement officers stop an astounding number of vehicles in any given year, Texas officers and deputies made over nine million traffic stops in 2019, and law enforcement agencies are bound by law to report traffic stop statistics to the State. The truth of the matter is that most of these stops go without incident, and without any type of search being conducted. However, when stops and searches are made, it’s imperative that an agency does all it can do to assure an agency is in the right.

What the statutes require from Racial Profiling Reports: whether an arrest, warning or citation resulted from the stop; the location of the stop and the reason for the stop; the race or ethnicity of the individual detained, did the officer know the race of the person being stopped prior to the stop; whether a search was conducted during the stop, and, if so, what was the reason for the search, and was the search consensual, was contraband found in the search. If an arrest was made, did the officer use physical force resulting in bodily injury.

The term “racial profiling” emerged as a hot topic, as it relates to police traffic stops, in the late 1990s. Concerns arose when some police agencies were accused of using race a factor in traffic stops, not coupled with other facts, but race alone as the motivation for the stop. The complaint was not new, as some minority communities had made the allegations for years, or even decades, and times were right at that time for activists and legislators to get on board. Legislators began to enact legislature to try and address what they saw as a problem. Tensions between police and the communities they served had been held over from the 1950’s and 1960’s in reference to racially biased practices.

Legislators acted, and law enforcement agencies responded by setting into practice programs that evaluated their practices, and performances. Agencies put concentrated efforts into training, policy revisions, hiring practices, and of accountability to help address the issues associated with the practice and or the perception of racially biased policing. There has been much progress in the effort to eliminate the practice and perception of racially biased policing. Much effort has been put into training, education, community outreach, and data collection of police – citizen traffic stop and pedestrian stop interactions.

Agencies began collecting information about the race/ethnicity of the police initiated traffic contacts; including driver ethnicity, reasons for the stop, dispositions of the stop, whether or not a search was conducted, the outcome of the search, types of contraband located, and incidents of arrest that resulted from the stops. The data collected would be analyzed and interpreted, then be used to help assist agency administrators and residents in determining whether racial bias influences police decisions to make stops.

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