Racial disparity growing in Mo. traffic stops
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Black motorists in Missouri are being stopped by police at an increasingly disproportionate rate compared with white and Hispanic motorists, according to a report released Tuesday by the attorney general.
Missouri’s 10th annual traffic stop analysis shows black motorists were 70 percent more likely than white drivers — and twice as likely as Hispanic motorists — to be stopped by law enforcement officers in 2009.
The figures compare the racial breakdown of Missouri’s driving-age population to the racial composition of drivers in more than 1.7 million traffic stops made by 642 law enforcement agencies.
The disparity for black drivers has risen nearly every year since 2001, when Missouri became the first state to publish a report examining the racial demographics of its traffic stops.
Attorney General Chris Koster said the report is cause for significant concern.
“These findings continue a disturbing trend for African-American drivers in Missouri,” Koster wrote in statement released with the report.
The attorney general planned to discuss the report at news conferences Tuesday in St. Louis and Kansas City. He planned similar events Wednesday in Jefferson City and Springfield.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has said for several years that the state needs to take action in response to the ever growing racial gap in traffic stops. One possibility: punitive action for cities with significant, sustained problems, said Mary Ratliff, president of the NAACP state conference.
Ratliff said she was to meet Wednesday with Koster to discuss the problem.
So far, “we’ve done quite a bit of discussing about racial profiling,” Ratliff said. “Very frankly, we haven’t got a solution to the problem.”
Black motorists were nearly 88 percent more likely to be stopped by St. Louis police than white drivers — a gap that has widened significantly since 2004, according to the attorney general’s report.
The racial disparity in traffic stops also has grown since 2004 in Kansas City, where the report showed black motorists were 60 percent more likely to be stopped than whites last year. In the Kansas City suburb of Independence, black drivers were more than six times as likely to be stopped as white drivers, according to the report.
Law enforcement officers say there often is a logical reason for the apparent racial disparity. Some predominantly white cities draw a lot of racial minority workers, visitors and shoppers, either because of their entertainment venues or their location along highways.
Independence, for example, has several major highways, one of the largest shopping centers in the Kansas City area and an events arena that hosts minor league hockey games. The Kansas City Chiefs and Royals also play at stadiums located near the Independence city limits.
“There are a lot of people who use our freeways and streets everyday that are not necessarily reflective of the makeup of Independence proper itself,” said Independence Police Capt. John Cato.
Independence police undergo annual training on how to avoid racial profiling, Cato said. The police department also has its own online survey on “bias-based profiling,” which includes a question on whether people believe the state “racial profiling” law is fair or necessary.
Among other larger Missouri cities, black drivers were more than twice as likely as whites to be stopped in Springfield and Columbia — both of which are located along interstate highways and are home to major universities.
Although they were stopped less frequently, Hispanic drivers were more likely than others to be searched by police, according to the statewide report. But Hispanics were less likely to be found with contraband as a result of being searched, the report said. The contraband “hit rate” for whites was nearly 23 percent, compared with 17 percent for blacks and 13 percent for Hispanics.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.