(St. Louis Public Radio) - State Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, says the level of racial disparity found in the latest Vehicle Stops Report is a crisis for the state of Missouri.
The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice is seeking to close the gap between the rate at which black and white drivers are stopped by police. The committee is encouraging conversations with community members and law enforcement through a hearing to be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. in St. Louis County Council chambers.
Not only will the committee examine the report, but they will also focus on the issues of racial profiling and civil asset foreiture.
Dogan said these two topics of concern have been vexing the community over the last couple of decades.
The 2018 traffic stops report revealed that African American drivers were 91% more likely to be pulled over by law enforcement than white drivers.
“In the 20 years that we've been collecting the data on those racial disparities in traffic stops, that's the highest disparity we've ever had,” Dogan, chair of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, said. “It feeds into the negative perception that we've had for a long time including Ferguson and all the negative attention that brought to our state.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office collected data from 596 law enforcement agencies statewide for the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report.
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."
In previous legislative sessions, the committee has pushed measures to try to reform racial profiling and civil forfeiture laws in Missouri.
Dogan wants the hearing to be a place where all affected parties of racial profiling and civil asset forfeiture can come together and discuss workable legistlative solutions that could possibly be proposed in the next session.
The committee invited law enforcement agencies, community organizers and prosecutors to the hearing tomorrow but is looking forward to hearing from the community.
When it comes to a common theme of police interactions, Dogan said his constituents always reference how the excessive stops by police decrease their trust in law enforcement.
“People are less likely to cooperate with law enforcement if they feel like they're not being treated fairly, and that in turn hurts us when we're trying to get the crime under control in our cities, which we desperately need to do here in St. Louis,” Dogan said.
He said the committee is trying to change the culture around the racial disparities that has led to black motorists being pulled over more than whites.
“I think the biggest reason that this (racial profiling by police) continues to go on year after year after year is because they know that there is no way to be held accountable right now,” Dogan said.
Accountability is another topic the committee will offer for discussion at the hearing. They are seeking to examine what should happen to departments or individual officers who are found to be racially profiling drivers.
Besides the members of the public, Dogan wants law enforcement agents to come to the hearing and talk through the statistics and to help develop a fair solution to the racial disparities in vehicle stops in the state.
“We're hoping to have an array of voices and experiences brought to the table so that we can just discuss these issues in an honest manner and try to find a way forward,” Dogan said.
Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/lawmakers-want-feedback-curbing-racial-disparities-traffic-stops-civil-asset-forfeiture