San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 1st, 2010
Police ‘year in review’ shows increased activity


San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) Chief Howard Williams, left, is joined by his assistants and commanders at the SMPD’s “Year in Review” session with the public earlier this week. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

The last two “Year in Review” reports issued by the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) indicate city-wide increases in police misconduct, use of force against African-Americans in proportion to other races, residential burglaries, robberies, misdemeanor assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, shoplifting, traffic stops, tickets issued, arrests, criminal investigations, vehicular collisions, juvenile offenses, K-9 unit seizures of drugs and narcotics-related money, minor in possession of alcohol charges, arrests for public intoxication, overall officer activity, Hays County Narcotics Task Force (HCNTF) investigations, and HCNTF seizures of money, cocaine and various pills or dosages of other drugs from the start of 2008 to the end of 2009.

The same reports indicate, during the same time period, city-wide decreases in SMPD response time, use of force against Whites and Hispanics in proportion to other races, clearance rate of criminal investigations, vehicle burglaries, auto theft, rapes/sexual assaults, noise complaints, juvenile investigation cases, runaways, juvenile detentions, HCNTF marijuana seizures, and awards, honors, and commendations conferred upon SMPD employees.

According to the 2009 Year in Review, individual SMPD employees received 18 awards and honors, and 46 commendations.

SMPD Chief Howard Williams presented the findings from the 2009 Year in Review earlier this week in a public meeting.

As to whether SMPD engages in racial profiling when making traffic stops, the results were inconclusive. In 2008 and 2009, SMPD commissioned Dr. Hassan Tajalli, a statistician and professor at Texas State, to analyze the department’s traffic stop data in order to determine the extent of racial profiling.

Tajalli concluded there is “no strong evidence” that officers in 2008 used race as the criteria for determining whether to conduct traffic stops on African Americans.

“Results indicate that White residents were stopped by the SMPD officers significantly more than expected,” said Tajalli as quoted by SMPD’s 2008 Year in Review. “Conversely, Hispanics were stopped significantly less than their share of presence in the community.”

Tajalli found that Hispanics who were stopped by SMPD officers were disproportionately more subject to searches than other ethnic groups.

“Conversely, White subjects who were stopped by the SMPD officers were disproportionately less subject to search,” said Tajalli as quoted by SMPD’s 2008 Year in Review. “Results indicate that disproportionately higher percentage of Hispanics who were stopped by the SMPD officers were subject to charges. Conversely, significantly fewer White residents who were stopped were faced with charges.”

According to Tajalli’s study of traffic stops conducted in 2009, there is no evidence of racial profiling against Hispanics and Whites that year, and traffic stop-initiated searches were not conducted based on racial profiling.

“Results indicate that (a) disproportionately higher percentage of Hispanics who were stopped by the SMPD officers were subject to charges,” Tajalli said of the 2009 results. “This finding, however, does not apply to African Americans.”

Tajalli further concluded that African Americans were stopped at a rate exceeding their share of the population as estimated by the federal government’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey (ACS). According to the ACS, Hispanic or Latinos comprise 34.6 percent of the city’s population, 57.9 percent of residents are White, and 5.2 percent are Black. According to the 2009 Year in Review report, instances of police use of force against African Americans comprised 10 percent and 17 percent of total use of force incidents in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Use of force against Whites and Hispanics in 2009 accounted for 39 percent and 42 percent of total incidents, respectively.

“One of the problems with using the census data for (racial profiling analyses) is that more than 23 percent of people in San Marcos reported their race as being a single race — in other words, not a mixed race, a single race — and listed it as ‘other,'” Williams said. “The national average is about five percent. So we don’t know know, based on that data, what our population looks like. It’s very difficult to determine that. But those and the numbers and this is what Dr. Tajalli said, so we wanted to put that out there.”

Said Tajalli about the 2009 data, “No one can with certainty say whether SMPD engaged in racial profiling or not. All we know is that the data collected from police stops indicate that disproportionately more African Americans were stopped.”

Williams said the racial profiling study does not take into account out-of-towners who may have been subject to traffic stops, to which Tajalli agreed. Tajalli suggested that SMPD begin recording traffic stop subjects’ place of residency in addition to their race or ethnicity to increase the accuracy of racial profiling reports.

Police administrative investigations in 2009 found nine instances of misconduct out of 15 Class I and II complaints. The other six complaints were unsubstantiated. Reasons complaints are classified as “unsubstantiated” include a lack of evidence of misconduct, policy failure, or false a allegation by the complainant. Class I complaints consist of those involving allegations of improper use of force, false arrest, unlawful search and/or seizure, discrimination, dishonesty, violation of civil rights or violation of criminal statutes besides Class C misdemeanors.

Compared to 2008, there was a 27.2 percent increase in officer-initiated police activity in 2009. SMPD Assistant Chief Warren Zerr termed the difference “a huge increase.” Traffic stops increased 28.8 percent in 2009, while traffic tickets increased 21 percent. SMPD fielded 89 officers in 2008 and 96 officers in 2009.

Williams presented a website that displays police calls-for-service in a Google Maps-type environment down to the neighborhood level. Among other features, the website enables a user to filter results using five offense categories. Williams said the city is not currently paying for use of the website, which is experimental and currently under development by law enforcement software provider Corona Solutions. The site can be found at

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