Sandra Bland Act sheds light on police stops

New statewide police data is providing a clearer picture of how Texas law enforcement agencies dealt with drivers during traffic stops in 2018.

The agencies were required to file the data by March 1 as part of the Sandra Bland Act, enacted in 2017. The bill is named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in the Waller County Jail days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. 

The data will add several elements to existing racial profiling data, including the contraband recovered in traffic stop searches, arrests and citations issued during a traffic stop, and whether an officer used force during the stop.

“I’m happy to see that the data aspects are revealing info we didn’t have before about the use of force in traffic stops by police departments,” said State Rep. Garnet Coleman, who introduced the bill.

The data includes information from 4.6 million traffic stops among 38 of the largest Texas jurisdictions, according to criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast.

The blog, run by criminal justice policy expert Scott Henson, used the new data to calculate rates of use of force, class C misdemeanor arrests and warrant arrests during traffic stops in Texas.

“This data will also allow further analysis of profiling African American and Latinos in traffic stops,” Coleman said, adding that the data will help prove there is racial discrimination in some of the stops. “It helps us to know patterns, which allows the public and others to look at police and the use of force in an arrest.”

Five Houston-area law enforcement agencies were among the top 20 who used force the most frequently during traffic stops in 2018, including Houston police and Sugar Land police, according to the data.

Charley Wilkison, executive director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said police officers only use force when they believe their lives are at risk. 

“There are just so many external variables that they just can’t know,” Wilkison said. “Maybe the officer’s intent is to give a warning, and then it escalates.”

He added that a large portion of Texas police officer deaths occur during a traffic stop.

Houston Police Officer’s Union President Joe Gamaldi echoed those statements, saying traffic stops are “one of the most dangerous things we do.”

“A lot of what we do is we take cues from the person we’re interacting with,” he said. “Once again we always tell people, always comply with an officer out on that scene.”