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Racial profiling in Missouri continues as a problem in traffic stops, attorney general notes

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster annually releases data on racial profiling in traffic stops. The latest numbers aren’t good.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster annually releases data on racial profiling in traffic stops. The latest numbers aren’t good. The Kansas City Star

Law enforcement agencies in Missouri should be praised for continuing to report to the state attorney general data that shows racial disparities in traffic stops.

But they also should feel ashamed that the numbers in 2014 soared to the highest level since the state started compiling the information to try to arrest the driving-while-black problem. “Concerns by the citizens of Missouri and the Missouri legislature regarding allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement prompted the passage of state law Section 590.650, RSMo (2000), which was enacted Aug. 28, 2000,” Attorney General Chris Koster’s website notes.

The report is the first since the Aug. 9 police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was black, and the police officer who stopped him to get him to not walk in the street was white. Protests — some violent — occurred afterward. No state or federal charges were brought against the police officer in the shooting

However, the Justice Department did heavily criticize the Ferguson Police Department for routinely violating the civil rights of African Americans and using them as a cash resource for the city. Racial profiling historically has been part of the problem.

Traffic stops by race, the attorney general’s report notes, that black drivers were 75 percent more likely than whites behind the wheel to be stopped in the state based on their proportionate share of the driving-age population. That’s 9 percentage points higher than the previous year, The Associated Press reports. Put another way, an “African-American motorist was stopped is 1.75 times that of a white motorist,” the attorney general notes.

“Racial profiling has been defined as the inappropriate use of race by law enforcement when making a decision to stop, search or arrest a motorist,” the state website notes.

On searches, “Asian drivers were searched at a rate well below the statewide average, while African-Americans and Hispanics were searched at rates above the statewide average. Like the stop rates, the search rates for the different groups can be compared directly with one another. African-Americans were 1.73 times more likely to be searched than whites (9.00/5.21). Hispanics were 1.90 times more likely than whites to be searched (9.91/5.21),” the website notes.

The 622 Law enforcement agencies that filed data for the report also gave the “contraband hit rate.” For whites was 26.9 percent, compared with a lower 21.4 percent for African-Americans and 19.5 percent for Hispanics.

“This means that, on average, searches of African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely than searches of whites to result in the discovery of contraband,” the website notes. “This difference may result in part from the higher arrest rates for African-Americans and Hispanics — if there is an arrest, there will be a search whether or not the arresting officer suspects the subject has contraband.”

What also makes no sense is the arrest rate from traffic stops. Close to 8 percent of the stops of African-Americans and 8.2 percent of Latinos resulted in arrest, compared with about 4.1 percent of the stops of whites.

“With 622 law enforcement agencies conducting vehicle stops in Missouri, there is no single explanation why these disparities exist,” Koster said.

That has to be the understatement of the year.

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