New stats but same trend on Missouri traffic stops

2014-05-30T16:23:00Z 2014-06-12T20:25:27Z New stats but same trend on Missouri traffic stopsBy Robert Patrick rpatrick@post-dispatch.com 314-621-5154 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • Black drivers in Missouri were once again more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white drivers, according to 2013 statistics on vehicle stops made public Friday by the attorney general’s office.

Blacks were 66 percent more likely to be stopped, the 11th time in the 14 years the data have been collected that there has been a year-to-year increase, Attorney General Chris Koster’s office said. In 2000, figures showed that black drivers were 30 percent more likely to be stopped.

The increase in 2013 was small, and it returns the so-called “disparity index” to the 2008 level. It has changed within a narrow range since then. The index compares the race of drivers stopped with the race of the driving age population of the police jurisdiction stopping them.

Numbers are published on the attorney general’s website for each jurisdiction.

Statewide, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and drivers of “other” races were less likely to be stopped than their population numbers would predict, the data show.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched (1.89 times and 1.87 times as likely, respectively) than whites, although police found contraband more often when searching white drivers.

Koster’s office cautioned that the disparity “is not conclusive evidence of racial profiling.” The data on 1.6 million traffic stops was compiled from reports submitted by 613 law enforcement agencies, Koster’s office said.

“One of the best uses of these reports is as a springboard for dialogue and communication between law enforcement agencies and the Missourians they serve,” Koster said in a statement announcing the numbers. “It is vital that Missouri law enforcement agencies review the rates of stops and searches and continue their community-outreach efforts,” he said.

Indeed, the numbers varied widely across the St. Louis region, and do so for a variety of reasons, including the racial makeup of the municipalities. The presence of interstate highways or regional attractions in a jurisdiction also can affect the statistics. Officials have cautioned in the past that an officer may not know the race of a driver when making a stop.

The Roundtable on Bias-based Policing has proposed changes to the data collection methods to allow for more meaningful analysis. The group includes the ACLU, NAACP, Missouri Association for Social Welfare, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, Missouri highway Patrol and police departments from St. Louis, St. Louis County, Springfield, Columbia and Kansas City.

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Missouri/Southern Illinois Anti-Defamation League, convened the group but was not available for comment Friday.

Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said that her group had not yet had time to deeply analyze the data.

But Don Love, human rights task force chairman with Oxford’s group, said, “Overall, things are about the same as they were last year.” Love said the best way to address disparities was through better education of officers, to “help them identify unconscious bias.”

Robert Patrick covers federal courts and federal law enforcement for the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter: @rxpatrick.

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