Who are deputies stopping in Travis County? Sheriff’s Office releases racial profiling report

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Sheriff’s Office has released its annual Racial Profiling Report for 2019.

Each year, law enforcement agencies across Texas are required by state law to collect and analyze data on traffic stops or pedestrian stops with regard to that agency’s policy on racial profiling.

Who are they stopping?

According to the TSCO report presented to County Commissioners on Tuesday, deputies stopped 39,748 people in 2019. That has increased from 34,537 people detained on stops in 2018.

The 2019 report states that in about 2% of cases, the person’s race was known before the stop.

“The last thing on an individuals mind should be the race, creed or color of the skin of the individual that they are responding to deal with,” Captain William Poole said.

The report breaks down the total number of stops by the person’s race.

Data showing who was stopped by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office
(Source: TSCO Annual Racial Profiling Report for 2019)

“We feel very confident and are positive in the results we get that our numbers are usually right on point, or within percentage points, reflective of our community,” Poole said. “This allows us to look at those numbers, irrespective of emotion.”

For context, the agency compared its data on stops to population totals based on 2016 Census population totals and the 2011 Texas Fair Road Standards.

Data showing who makes up the Travis County Population
(Source: TSCO Annual Racial Profiling Report for 2019)

Comparing the two tables, the rate at which white and black people were stopped was within percentage points, but not totally proportional, to the amount of those populations living in the county.

“Any time the numbers are out of whack, we are concerned, because we look for almost perfection,” Nelson Linder, NAACP Austin Branch President said. “We are talking about human rights. Nothing other than being exceptional is acceptable.”

However, he said the Travis County Sheriff’s office was doing a better job than many agencies.

According to the report, TSCO Internal Affairs investigated just one racial profiling complaint in 2019. It reported that complaint was “unfounded.” The 2018 report cited no complaints of racial profiling.

“We typically get involved when there are complaints,” Linder said. “It tells me that the deputies are communicating for the most part and the folks involved are fairly happy with how they are being treated overall.”

He said other departments have much higher complaint rates, and he credits the Sheriff’s office for how they are training their deputies.

“Based on my experience, they have no tolerance for any kind of unfair treatment,” he said.

Linder referenced a recent city report that found people of color are being stopped by Austin Police Department officers at disproportionately higher rates than the percentage of their population in Austin.

He said they have asked APD to look at what the county is doing. He encouraged all law enforcement agencies to share their data and “make the system even better.”

Who are they searching?

According to the report, deputies searched 916 of the drivers or pedestrians who were stopped. That is 2.3% of the total number of stops.

While the total number of stops increased from 2018, the total number of searches decreased. In 2018, 1,669 (4.83%) of drivers or pedestrians were searched.

“We rarely search individuals, unless it’s needed, as you can see,” Captain Poole said.

He credits better training, along with dialogue between their and the community, and between their supervisors and staff.

“To be efficient, to be effective, and to understand that when you are out there, you are there to provide a service to the community,” Poole said. “Sometimes, unfortunately, that individual may be violating a particular issue, and we become responsible to deal with that scenario. Someone may be searched, and someone may ultimately be arrested.”

However, he said the goal, more often than not, is to educate people on the law and how to comply with it.

Linder said at the NAACP, their one concern with the report had to do with who was being searched.

According to the TSCO report data:

  • White: Out of 22,879 stops, 22,474 (98.23%) were not searched and 405 (1.77%) were searched
  • Black: Out of 4,592 stops, 4,407 (95.97%) were not searched and 185 (4.03%) were searched
  • Hispanic: Out of 10,309 stops, 10,001 (97.01%) were not searched and 308 (2.99%) were searched
  • Asian: Out of 1,694 stops, 1,678 (99.06%) were not searched and 16 (0.94%) were searched
  • American Indian: Out of 274 stops, 272 (99.27%) were not searched and two (0.73%) were searched

“Why is it that with such a small population, we have higher searches based on ratios?” Linder asked.

Linder said these are the questions they are tackling with their Building Bridges program.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Office alternates with Austin Police Department, the Austin Independent School District, and Austin Community College to hold monthly town halls on public safety and inclusivity issues.

“Anytime you are racially profiling anybody, whether intentionally or not, that’s a constitutional violation. It’s not just a number, it’s a constitutional violation and we should look at it that way,” Linder said. “I think working together will make the departments better because you are going to learn from each other.”

The report lays out “consent,” “plain view” offense, “probable cause or reasonable stop,” “impound,” and “incident to on-site arrest or warrant,”as the reasons someone might be searched if they are stopped.

Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, said his organization still has concerns.

“While Travis County conducts far fewer roadside searches overall than the Austin Police Department, they have some of the same issues with bias,” said Chas Moore. “Where deputies have discretion, Black drivers are rarely asked for consent (less than 10% of consent searches) and far more often are subject to non-consent investigatory searches (26% of the investigatory searches.) The Sheriff needs to look more deeply at these numbers.”

To view the 2018 report:

To view the 2019 report:

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