Government & Politics

Missouri statistics show racial disparity in traffic stops continues to rise

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster The Associated Press

Attorney General Chris Koster said he is disturbed by new statistics showing that Missouri law enforcement officers have continued to pull over black motorists at a significantly greater rate than white drivers.

The report released Friday by Koster’s office found that black drivers were 66 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped based on their proportionate share of the driving-age population last year.

The disparity increased slightly from 2012 but is up significantly since 2000, when the state first began reporting racial demographics about traffic stops. In 2000, blacks were 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

“This suggests a disturbing trend, and I hope communities with similar findings will make a serious effort to identify the causes,” Koster said in a statement.

He cautioned that the statistics don’t prove that law officers are making vehicle stops based on the race of the driver.

The report is based on a review of almost 1.7 million traffic stops made by officers for 613 law enforcement agencies in 2013. It compares the traffic-stop data to the racial composition of the population in each jurisdiction and to the state as a whole.

Law enforcement officers have said racial disparities in traffic stops may appear higher in some cities populated predominantly white residents that have interstate highways or retail and tourist destinations. That’s because the cities may attract minority drivers at a higher proportion than the local population.

The report shows that Hispanic drivers were stopped at a lower proportional rate than white or black drivers.

Law officers also searched Hispanic and black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers. But of those who were searched, whites were found with contraband at a higher rate than black and Hispanic drivers.

Missouri law requires law enforcement agencies to report their annual traffic-stop data to the attorney general’s office, which must produce a report by June 1. For its analysis, the attorney general’s office relied on criminal justice professors at Arizona State University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of South Carolina.