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Missouri Police Stop Black Drivers At Higher Rates Than White Drivers

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The latest numbers show racial disparities in stop rates in many of Missouri's police departments.

The Missouri Attorney General's 2018 report on traffic stops shows black drivers were even more likely to be stopped than white drivers compared to the year prior. Statewide in 2018, blacks were 91% more likely than whites to be stopped by law enforcement. That's based on the driving-age population of both groups in the 2010 census. For 2017, the figure was 85%.

In relation to the entire population of Missouri, blacks were stopped at a rate of 76% in 2018 compared to 72% in 2017.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office collected data from 596 law enforcement agencies statewide for the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report

The annual report has been issued since 2000 and covers nearly 600 Missouri law enforcement agencies.

In a message in the report, Schmitt writes: “Importantly, this data can help law enforcement identify disparities in stops, searches, and arrests and take appropriate action to improve both public safety and community relations."

Sixty-six agencies reported no traffic stops were made in their jurisdictions in 2018. However, the agencies that did not report any findings often contract out their vehicle stops to other police forces. Seventeen agencies did not present the required data to the attorney general’s office, which by law will result in a loss of state funds.

How it works

The report assesses implicit bias in traffic enforcement using a disparity index as well as search, contraband hit and arrest rates among racial groups.

The report explains the disparity index this way:

“A value of 1 indicates that a group’s proportion of vehicle stops equals its population proportion: it is neither 'under-represented' nor 'over-represented.' Values above 1 indicate over-representation, and those below 1 indicate under-representation in traffic stops.”

The report states that whites comprise an estimated 82.8% of the state’s driving-age population. The disparity index for whites is 0.92, which means that whites were stopped just below the expected rate based on the driving-age population of 16 and older from the 2010 Census.

Blacks make up 10.9% of Missouri’s driving population, with a disparity index of 1.76.

Vehicle stops for ethnic and racial groups including Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and mixed or unknown races were fewer than expected, according to the report.

In Kansas City, Missouri, where blacks make up 30 percent of the population, the disparity index for whites is 0.95 and 1.33 for blacks. The rate is very similar for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office (whites: 0.98 and blacks: 1.30), while the disparity widens in Lee's Summit (whites: 0.88 and blacks: 2.57) and Independence (whites: 0.85 and blacks: 4.19).

Other takeaways:

Vehicle searches: The state average rate was 6.60%. The rate for Hispanics was 8.44%, and for blacks it was 8.93%. Whites were searched just under the state’s average rate of 6.04%.

Contraband was found in 35% of all vehicle searches. Compared to white drivers, blacks and Hispanics were less likely to have any form of contraband in the vehicle during the traffic stop.

Of the 1,539,477 total stops, 72,017 ended in an arrest.

The 2017 data showed some similar patterns. Black and Hispanic drivers were searched at higher rates than average. And white drivers were reportedly found with contraband more often.

Responding to the report last year, Redditt Hudson, vice president of Civil Rights and Advocacy at the Urban League, said the report’s findings were an “indictment of our will to do the right thing, of our will to acknowledge the full extent of the problem.” Hudson is a former St. Louis police officer.

Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist. KCUR's Michelle Tyrene Johnson contributed to this story.

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