State troopers in Texas will now ask every driver they pull over to tell them their race so it can be properly reported to the state, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw announced on Wednesday. The announcement comes after a KXAN investigation uncovered state troopers recording the wrong race of minority drivers during traffic stops.
McCraw was called to testify before the House Committee on County Affairs, where he admitted the problem KXAN Investigator Brian Collister uncovered is something they are scrambling to fix. The focus of the hearing at the Capitol was specifically on how the department records race.
“You were right and we were wrong,” McCraw told Collister immediately after the hearing.
It’s the first time the DPS director admits what our investigation uncovered is true, which didn’t sit well with lawmakers on the committee who were already concerned with a dramatic increase in the number of Hispanics being stopped by troopers.
”The number of the people who are stopped that are coded incorrectly, that means we’re understating the percentage because they’re not in the equation,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Garnet Coleman.
McCraw had previously placed some of the blame on the in-car computer system used by troopers—even though troopers have the ability to change the race seen in the computer and troopers have been trained to properly record a driver’s race and ethnicity.
“What we can do better, and we should have been doing better, is collect the data accurately, as it relates to Hispanics. Plain and simple, [we’re] guilty,” McCraw replied to Chairman Coleman during the hearing. “That should have been done better and we’ve got an obligation to fix that.”
He told committee members DPS cannot immediately fix the problem with the in-car computers but they will immediately take other steps, like asking drivers their race and ethnicity, to solve the problem.
“The change takes place effective today,” McCraw promised the committee. “We’ll change our tactics statewide in terms of how we engage violators on the side of the road.”
McCraw says DPS has known about the problem for years, but only publicly acknowledge the problem after KXAN’s investigation.
“I can assure you this is a leadership issue, not a trooper issue,” McCraw said.
But while admitting DPS racial profiling statistics are flawed, McCraw also claimed the agency’s numbers prove his troopers don’t racially profile drivers. The only Hispanic member on the committee didn’t believe that statement.
“He couldn’t simply state, ‘you’re right.’ I cannot use this information to defend myself anymore,” said Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. “The math doesn’t lie. Two and two is always four, and right now two and two is an unknown based on the information we got today,” he said right after the hearing.
We’ve repeatedly asked DPS to show us their in-car computer system so we can confirm and show the problem McCraw has described but DPS has refused. However, after today’s hearing McCraw finally promised to give us a demonstration at DPS headquarters.
McCraw says DPS is working on a fix for its computer system but says he has no idea how long it will take, or cost.
Rep. Romero said he will request DPS, and the Public Saftey Commission which oversees it, hire an independent expert to audit DPS’ collection of racial profiling data.