Henderson County, Athens police traffic stops line up closely with racial makeup of area

Published on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 10:13 - Written by By Rich Flowers, The Athens Review

(AP) -- The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and Athens Police Department have filed 2013 racial-profiling reports with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, showing traffic stops that line up closely with the racial makeup of their jurisdictions.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires that all law-enforcement agencies report racial-profiling data to TCOLE, as well as their governing body. The HCSO presented its report to the Commissioners Court last week, while APD submitted its document to the city council.

Each law-enforcement agency is required to enact a policy defining the acts that constitute racial profiling, and prohibits those acts. They also must implement a process by which a person can file a complaint, and provide corrective action against a peace officer who is investigated, and found to have violated the rules.

HCSO Maj. Botie Hillhouse said the department has not had a racial profiling complaint since Sheriff Ray Nutt took office. In 2013, Caucasians accounted for roughly 90 percent of the vehicle stops. The percentage of Caucasian stops is larger than the percentage of Caucasians in the general population of the county, where Caucasians make up 82 percent, Hispanic 9.6 percent and African-American 6.4 percent.

Because the Sheriff’s Office equips its vehicles with video cameras, they get a partial exemption from TCLEOSE, and are not required to submit a full report, which requires a much more detailed account of the traffic stops.

For a normal traffic stop, the recordings are kept for 90 days. If the stop is involved in a case, the recordings are kept longer than that. That way, if there’s a complaint, HCSO has a place to go back and look.

According to its report, the HCSO made 698 motor-vehicle stops in 2013. Caucasian drivers accounted for 629 of the stops, followed by 29 Hispanic and 39 African-American.

In addition, one of the drivers was of middle-eastern ethnic background. The officers did not know the race of the driver in 642 of the cases.

HCSO deputies issued citations in 605 of the stops, and made arrests on 92 other occasions. There were 63 searches reported, of which 58 were conducted with the driver’s consent.

The Athens Police Department has not had a racial-profiling complaint against the department in several years. The APD also has video cameras in its patrol vehicles. The APD reported 1,375 stops in 2013. Of those drivers, 731 were Caucasian, 351 Hispanic and 286 African-American. APD also initiated stops on seven Asian drivers.

The report states that APD officers were not aware of the ethnicity of the driver in 1,177 of the stops. The stops resulted in 1,195 citations, 68 in which only an arrest occurred, and 114 that produced both a citation and arrest.

Caucasians account for about 54 percent of the city’s population, with Hispanics making up 26.7 percent and African-American 17.4 percent.