Black drivers are 91 percent more likely to be stopped in Missouri than white drivers, according to the Missouri attorney general’s 2018 Vehicle Stops report released on May 31.
“For the 18th year in a row, the attorney general’s office has released a study that shows black drivers and people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by law enforcement,” said Alicia Hernandez, of the ACLU of Missouri, at a press conference on Monday, June 3. “A report is not enough. Actions must be taken. Without action, Missouri will remain a state where minority drivers are harassed and left to feel unsafe and unwelcome.”
In 2000, Missouri citizens and state legislators who were concerned with bias in traffic enforcement successfully pushed to pass a state law that requires the attorney general to collect and report data every year on traffic stops by law enforcement across the state.
Overall in Missouri, black drivers were 1.48 times more likely to be searched than whites, according to an analysis provided by the attorney general. Although whites are less likely to be searched, the contraband-hit rate for whites was higher statewide – 35 percent – compared with 33.8 percent for blacks and 29.2 percent for Hispanics.
“This means that, on average, searches of blacks and Hispanics are less likely than searches of whites to result in the discovery of contraband,” the analysis states.
In the St. Louis metro area, Brentwood, Ladue and Frontenac police departments had the highest disproportionate stop rates of black drivers compared to white drivers – with 18.56, 16.23, and 13.13 respectively.
What these numbers tell us is the likelihood that a black motorist was stopped in Brentwood is 18.56 times that of a white motorist. Or, in other words, blacks were 1850 percent more likely than whites to be stopped in Brentwood, based on their respective proportions of the Missouri driving population in the 2010 Census.
(Wonk note: These numbers come from taking the values of the disparity indexes for whites and blacks and comparing them directly to one another by dividing their values.)
Brentwood Police Chief Joseph L. Spiess Jr. said it will take the department’s data analyst several weeks to go through the numbers and determine the reasons for disparities.
“They take a look at it and see if there are any officers who need additional training,” Spiess said.
All of their officers go through racial profiling training, he said.
Ladue Police Chief Ken Andreski Jr. said he appreciates the effort to gather the data, but he disagrees with how it’s collected and the picture that it paints of his officers.
“That needs more context,” Andreski said. “We have one of the lowest populations of African Americans in the state (0.88 percent), but we have two major thoroughfares and the traveling population is much different than the residential population.”
The cities that border Ladue have higher African-American populations, he said, and Ladue also has two malls, among other factors. If these things were taken into account, “our disparity index would be where everyone wants to see it.”
Andreski also said that 90 percent of Ladue Police stops were for “hazardous moving violations,” such as following too close, which could cause accidents – and not things like license plate or tail light violations.
The data can be “shocking,” he said, but he encourages people to dive deeper into the numbers, which his department does every month. And he also said that the police department’s numbers look better in the post-stop data, which show what happens after the stop had been made. (The American will report on this data next week.)
The Frontenac Police Department did not return the The St. Louis American’s request for comment by press time.
Activists said that one of the reasons the numbers for some police departments haven’t improved or have stayed the same is because some departments don’t believe the vehicle stops study is relevant to them, said John Chasnoff, with the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR).
Particularly in some areas with highways or shopping districts, the police said that there are too many people coming in from outside their districts to get an accurate portrayal in the disparities, Chasnoff said. However this year, resident data was added to the information gathered. It specifically shows the disparity in black residents that live within the district areas. For the Brentwood, Ladue and Frontenac police departments, the disproportion stop rates for black residents compared to white residents are 4.37, 3.90 and 1.74 respectively.
“This is where you dig down into the numbers, you can see that bias still exists and it’s important that police departments and activists sit down together and see what you can learn from them,” Chasnoff said at the June 3 press conference.
Comparatively, the St. Louis and St. Louis County police departments had resident stop disproportion rates of 4.17 and 2.09 respectively. Again, this means that in St. Louis city, black resident drivers were four times more likely to be stopped than white city resident motorists — and two times more likely in the county.
A city police spokesman said in an email, “We have not reviewed the report at this time. As such, we cannot provide any comment.” The county police spokesman also said they were still reviewing the numbers.
At the June 3 press conference, several advocates and legislators called on state legislators to pass the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act, which would add consequences to racial profiling.
State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) said that if there isn’t any “teeth” in a law addressing racial profiling, then you won’t achieve compliance.
“We need to get Republicans on board to recognize that it’s a crisis,” Dogan said. “We have data to prove that this has been going on for two decades.”
Another speaker was Sgt. Heather Taylor, a homicide detective with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the president of the Ethical Society of Police, a minority police association in the city and St. Louis County.
Taylor said the only way to get change within the police department is through punishment — and right now there are no consequences to deter racially discriminatory behaviors.
“If they are African-American, white, Hispanic, Asian, who cares? If you are a cancer to our community, if you’re a predator and you’re preying on people through your badge and your gun, you have to go,” Taylor said. “Some of them are absolutely embarrassing our department, they’re embarrassing us. They are running a lot of minorities off the department.”
Jamala Rogers with CAPCR said that passing a law would help keep the state guidelines uniform, but that doesn’t mean individual police departments can’t exact their own repercussions.
Roger said, “If you look and see a police officer consistently over the years, their name keeps coming up, it’s your job in your leadership position to then say, ‘This is wrong,’ and send a message to the rest of the police department.”