Why do disparate arrest rates persist in Dallas?

Disparate Arrest Rates Negatively Affect Minority Populations in Texas

In Dallas, a black or Hispanic person is statistically more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested by police than a white person. Though this disparity has improved over time, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, minority populations in Dallas are at an all-time high. In Dallas County, the population is estimated to be 39.9% Hispanic or Latino, 23.5% Black or African American, and 29.8% White.[1] Though minority populations have continued to grow, the rates of arrest for people of color in Texas have remained disproportionate to their population numbers.

Dallas’s disproportionate arrest rate for minority populations is not a new phenomenon. Though Dallas hired its first black police officer in 1947 and has been led by black chiefs of police, arrest rates have been much more resistant to change.[2] Even today, after being stopped by police, black people are twice as likely as white people to be searched, and Hispanic people are 50 percent more likely than whites to be searched.[3] When compared with the “hit” rate of these searches—the hit rate is the likelihood that the search will actually reveal illegal materials—it becomes clear that these searches are discriminatory in nature.[4] In addition to being stopped and arrested more often, minorities are also more likely to be handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, or to have a weapon pointed at them by police.[5]

This disparity is also particularly apparent with Dallas’s new cite-and-release program. Under the new program, 48 people received citations to appear in court for possession of marijuana.[6] Of those 48 people that were cited, 4% were white—only two people.[7] This sad discrepancy mirrors a national trend of racial disparity in arrests for marijuana possession.[8] Even though the penalties are now less severe thanks to cite-and-release, the disparity in enforcement is extremely apparent.

In response to this disparity, the Dallas Police Department has taken recent steps to remedy the situation.[9] Through increased training efforts, Dallas police officers have been taught how to be more sensitive to the city’s racial divide.[10] Despite these efforts, white officers continue to use force to subdue black citizens more often than other citizens.[11] Positive change is happening, but it is slow in coming.

While departments work to change institutionally, federal and state laws also provide a haven for people who have been negatively affected by racial profiling. One of our most important protections comes from the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.[12] Texas has a similar provision in its state constitution that similarly provides for “all free men…[to] have equal rights.”[13] These clauses work together to make it illegal for police to discriminate against people of color for stops, searches and arrests. In addition, a number of other laws also protect against racial discrimination in employment, education, the issuing of services, housing, voting and more. Though not directly relevant to arrests, these laws are important to be aware of.[14]

To ensure that Texas police are following these laws, the Texas Legislature requires police to publish a yearly racial profiling report.[15] The report details the total numbers of arrests and stops police departments have made during the previous year and the race of the individuals who were stopped.[16] Many feel that Texas law does not go far enough to protect people of color, but these reports provide a good starting place to determine if a particular police department has been using illegal racial profiling to make stops and arrests.

Overall, the issues of law enforcement and racial profiling are complicated and difficult to quickly remedy. However, since the law provides protections for people of color, it is important that minority citizens exercise their rights if police illegally target them for disparate stops and arrests. If you have been targeted unlawfully targeted by police, please contact Chad West, PLLC for a consultation; we may be able to help protect your rights.

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[1] United States Census Bureau, Quickfacts: Dallas County, Texas, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/dallascountytexas,TX/PST045217 (last visited Apr. 14, 2018).

[2] Texas law enforcement often doesn’t mirror the communities it serves, Dallas Morning News (May 2015), http://res.dallasnews.com/graphics/2015_05/texas-racial-divide/.

[3] Stanford University, Open Policing Project: Findings, https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/ (last visited Apr. 14, 2018).

[4] Id.

[5] Melissa Healy, Blacks are more likely to be killed by police, but that's because they're more likely to be stopped, study say, L.A. Times (July 25, 2016, 3:00 PM), http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-cops-race-injury-20160725-snap-story.html.

[6] Stephen Young, Dallas Cops Are Still Citing-and-Releasing Mostly Black and Brown People for Pot, Dallas Observer (Apr. 20, 2018, 4:00 AM), http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/new-dallas-cite-and-release-stats-show-more-of-the-same-10604378.

[7] Id.

[8] Alex Macon, In Dallas, Black People Still More Likely To Be Charged for Weed, DMagazine (Apr. 20, 2018, 11:36 AM), https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2018/04/cite-release-dallas-marijuna-racial-disparities/.

[9] Christopher I. Haugh, How the Dallas Police Department Reformed Itself, Atlantic (July 9, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/dallas-police/490583/.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] U.S. Const. amend XIV, § 1.

[13] Tex. Const. art. 1, § 3.

[14] Race Discrimination: Applicable Laws, FindLaw, https://civilrights.findlaw.com/discrimination/race-discrimination-applicable-laws.html.

[15] Tex. Occ. Code § 1701.164 (2017).

[16] See Tex. Comm’n on Law Enforcement, Racial Profiling Forms, http://racialprofiling.nuvola-networks.com/racial_profiling_forms (last visited Apr. 22, 2018).chad@chadwestlaw.com

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