UT offers breakdown of ID checks

Stops of Asians, black students are at higher rates than population

By Erik Rodriguez
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Recent University of Texas statistics indicate that campus police are conducting more identification checks of Asian students than they are of other minorities, including African American and Hispanic students.

Asian and African American students are being stopped at rates higher than their representation on campus, the statistics show.

Of the 639 checks made on campus since December, when police began recording the race of those they stop, 34 percent involved Asian students. In fall 2002, Asians were about 14 percent of UT's 52,261 students, making them the largest UT minority population.

Police stopped 36 African American students, or 5.6 percent, a figure slightly higher than the African American campus population of 3.2 percent.

Nine percent of the checks involved Hispanics, who make up 12 percent of the UT student population. Nearly half of those stopped for ID checks -- 305 -- were white. The student population is 60 percent white.

UT police say the numbers show they're not singling out African Americans on campus, although some African American students say the disparity is proof of racial profiling. A racial profiling expert says more data are needed to draw any conclusions.

"My first concern would be the time span," said Alejandro del Carmen, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT-Arlington. "My second is the sample. Those are low numbers in comparison to the thousands of people on campus."

Del Carmen, who reviewed the UT police statistics, said a 3 percent margin of error is typical, but the figures involving Asian students merit further investigation. Del Carmen has written numerous articles and teaches courses on racial profiling for the Law Enforcement Management Insititute of Texas at Sam Houston State University.

"I would not be as concerned with the African American numbers as I would with the Asian numbers," he said. "That is definitely worth paying attention to."

Earlier this month, UT student Kevin Curry, who is African American, said he had been racially profiled when a campus police officer asked for identification at the Texas Union. The allegation has been at the center of several student complaints and is one reason UT President Larry Faulkner has established a committee to address concerns about race relations and police policies.

Tushar Pandya, chairman of the Asian American Culture Committee at the Texas Union, speculated that the statistics might reflect a student union decision to stay open later, which he said has prompted more Asian students to go there to study. More than half of the ID checks were made at the Texas Union, many after regular business hours.

"It doesn't surprise me because there are quite a bit more Asians," Pandya said.

Andre Coe, a member of the campus Multicultural Information Center, said the numbers involving African Americans are significant.

"If the numbers tell you we've got 6 percent of African Americans being checked and we actually have 3 percent on this campus, some people may not see that as a big difference, but I do," he said, adding that the numbers offer no information about how African American students are treated during ID checks.

Students raised questions about the ID checks after a series of racially charged incidents. In January, the Martin Luther King Jr. statue was vandalized, and security cameras failed to record it, upsetting students. The UT Police Department's initial refusal to provide security for a Soul Night event angered students. Administrators also investigated allegations that members of two fraternities wore racially insensitive costumes at parties.

The incidents prompted questions about race relations and campus police procedures last week, when Faulkner appeared before students to talk about recent events.

On Thursday, UT Police Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke said police check IDs on the third, fourth and fifth floors of the student union and elsewhere on campus at their discretion. The department adopted a policy barring racial profiling in December 2001 in response to a state law prohibiting the practice. UT police began keeping written records of all ID checks to meet a January deadline for law enforcement agencies statewide to begin collecting data on all pedestrian stops.

Of the department's 56 sworn officers, 46 are white, five are Hispanic, four are African American and one is Asian.

In January, a UT police officer stopped Curry while he played piano on the third floor of the student union. Curry, a senior majoring in business, argued with the uniformed officer about why he needed to show his ID card, according to a UT police report. He later told the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, that he thought he'd been racially profiled.

Curry, who said he plans to file a complaint this week with UT police, said he was angry that police did not keep detailed data before December. He said the recent attention could prompt officers to avoid checking the IDs of minority students.

"Now, basically, students are coming forward with this issue, so it's going to be very hard to prove there was a problem," Curry said.

Joe Powell, associate vice president for employee and campus services, said the ID check was standard procedure.

"We don't want to get into an argument with Mr. Curry, because no one is going to win," Powell said.

Van Slyke said thefts and problems with transients have prompted police to do more checks on the Texas Union's upper floors. A Dec. 13 letter from Hoa Nguyen, assistant director of operations at the Texas Union, thanks Van Slyke for the extra checks.

"UTPD's patrols of our restricted areas have been both frequent and thorough, yielding a number of criminal trespass issuances and several arrests," Nguyen wrote.

Del Carmen, the criminologist, said UT police could help ward off accusations of racial profiling by recording the reasons for stopping a particular student and by making the checks uniform and not at the officers' discretion.

Faulkner's race relations committee will determine whether police procedures need to change, a prospect with which Powell said he is comfortable. "If there are changes needed, we're definitely going to make changes," he said.

erodriguez@statesman.com; 445-3673