Oddly Aggressive Traffic Stops in Austin, Texas

New Data Reveals Surprising Nature to Traffic Stops in State's Capital

Twenty years ago, the state of Texas began requiring that demographic information be recorded any time a police officer made a traffic stop. The goal of this edict was to hopefully gain a better understanding of when and how racial profiling occurs. After 2015 when a young black woman was jailed by a Texas state trooper when she neglected to signal when changing lanes (then committed suicide while in jail), the Sandra Bland Act was introduced which allows analysis of all Texas traffic stops. The factors included in the analysis include:

  • Was unwarranted force used during the traffic stop?
  • Were there any arrests for Class C misdemeanors? 
  • Were there any arrests for unpaid traffic tickets?

In the state of Texas, a Class C misdemeanor is one which is considered an extremely minor infraction—so minor that a fine and no jail time is the maximum allowed penalty. The information gathered during these two decades was compiled and released in 2018. It was noted by many that Latino and Black drivers appeared to be stopped and searched much more often than white drivers. There was much more to the report, however, as discovered by one of the nation’s foremost criminal justice minds, Scott Henson. Henson put together a spreadsheet which incorporated a staggering 4.6 million traffic stops across the state. Thirty-eight jurisdictions were represented—the largest in the state—minus Fort Worth who was late reporting their data. Henson discovered many noteworthy findings, however three of them he found particularly surprising. These findings included:

  • The police officers from the city of Austin were much more likely to utilize force—actually, “injury-causing force”—than any other Texas policing jurisdiction. Austin police used injury-causing force 77 times out of every 10,000 stops. The next-closest city was Houston using injury-causing force 53 times per 10,000 stops (Denton PD—42, Corpus Christi PD—24, Texas Department of Safety—17). In fact, the Austin PD used force at regular traffic stops four times as often as state troopers, and 20 times as often as the San Antonio Police Department.
  • Henson then looked at how often police officers made arrests for relatively minor Class C misdemeanors. Austin was still on the list, arresting 124 drivers out of every 10,000 traffic stops for a Class C misdemeanor, however Waco PD arrested a whopping 451 drivers out of every 10,000 traffic stops, San Antonio was at 246, Odessa at 236, Killeen at 181, Lewisville at 172, Houston at 150 and Midland at 142.
  • The final issue Henson looked at was how often people who had outstanding warrants for a traffic ticket were actually arrested. Once again, Austin made the top five list.

Because Austin’s reputation is that of a liberal city, Henson was intrigued by the data results. Henson also found that during a four-month period in 2016, 11 percent of the jail admissions in Harris County were for a Class C Misdemeanor. In 2018, approximately 525,000 (524,628) Texans remained in jail because they could not afford to pay the fines associated with their Class C Misdemeanor.  A bill is now being considered by the Texas Legislature which would significantly curtail the arrest of citizens for a minor infraction with a maximum penalty of a fine. 

Individuals currently facing traffic tickets in Houston and Harris County could benefit from speaking to a knowledgeable Houston Traffic Ticket Lawyer. Sullo & Sullo handles most traffic offenses in the Greater Houston Area, including Houston, Sugarland, Pearland, Baytown, Jersey Village, Deer Park, Pasadena, South Houston, Stafford, Missouri City,and the Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts.

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Author: Andrew Sullo
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Andrew Sullo

Andrew SulloAndrew Sullo

Andrew Sullo is a National Trial Lawyer's Top 100 Selection for 2013-2018. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice.

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