Stopping Pretext Stops with the Sandra Bland Act

Stopping Pretext Stops with the Sandra Bland Act

The House County Affairs Committee, which I chair, will conduct a hearing to discuss DPS profiling practices, de-escalation techniques in all circumstances as discussed in the recent Houston Chronicle editorial ‘Police shootings’, the constitutional right to equal protection, and diversion for people with mental illness before booking. Additionally, Tom Rhodes the Texas-based attorney who represented Sandra Bland’s family will be speaking at the hearing. The hearing will take place at the State Capitol in room E2.016 at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. If you cannot attend in person, I encourage you to watch it live online by clicking here. Part of addressing DPS profiling practices will include stopping the use of pretext stops.

This upcoming session I will file the Sandra Bland Act, which will include her family’s wishes and recommendations that came about through the Sandra Bland case and have been discussed at the House Committee on County Affairs’ oversight hearings. Part of that act will include measures to stop pretext stops. A pretext stop occurs when a law enforcement officer uses a minor violation as a pretext to stop a person, to investigate a separate and unrelated, suspected criminal offense.

Pretext stops have been and unfortunately continue to be, a way in which oppression of people of color happens in Texas and the United States. This problem is colloquially referred to as “Driving While Black.”

Senator West, Representative Thompson, and others, including myself, attempted to address this problem in 2001 when we passed SB 1074. The bill importantly required that audio and visual recording equipment be installed onto police vehicles that routinely make traffic stops. The bill also put in place many of the data collecting requirements about race and ethnicity that we still use today. The bill for its time was no doubt a major success. However, 15 years later the problem of racial profiling still exist ─ now is the time to modernize our anti-racial profiling statue.

Over the last year, in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, the House Committee on County Affairs and multiple media outlets have taken the time to deeply analyze the numbers. This analysis found significant racial disparities in the searches conducted on people of color  during traffic stops when compared to Whites.

To help fix the problem we need to improve the statutory language in our racial profiling laws. To improve the law the language within it needs to be strengthened, and enforcement mechanisms need to be enhanced to make sure that the law is being followed. Additionally, we need to also include verbal warnings in our data collection.

Those measures will help us better identify when pretext stops are happening. Additionally, to protect all people against pretext stops, I would like to see the use of consent searches done away with. This in no way prevents law enforcement from enforcing the law as they will still be able to perform probable cause searches during traffic stops.

With these changes, we will have a better understanding of the problem Texas is facing and how to fix it. Also, adding new enforcement mechanisms that will allow us to give additional training to those who need it, and punish repeat bad actors will provide the means to stop pretext stops.



Register To Vote

The deadline to register to vote is October 11th, avoid a last minute rush and register today if you are not already registered. If you have voted in the past, still live in the same location and have not changed your name you are most likely already registered to vote. But, if you are unsure whether or not you are registered you can check here. If you are not yet registered to vote or need to make a change, you can fill out the voter registration form online hereHowever, after filling the form out you will need to print it out and mail it to the address on the form(address varies based on your location). If you need help getting registered to vote or have questions please click here or call my office at (512) 461-3899.

The song of the week is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson.

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