Report: Black, Hispanic Missouri Drivers Face Disproportionate Number of Police Searches

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Police search African American and Hispanic Missouri drivers at a notably higher rate than white drivers -- despite the fact that these minority groups are actually less likely to have contraband on them.

These are the findings of an annual vehicle-stops report that Attorney General Chris Koster released on Friday. The report -- which analyzes more than 1.6 million stops with data from more than 600 law enforcement agencies -- says that black motorists are more likely to be pulled over and searched and are more likely to be arrested during traffic stops than white drivers. This has been the trend since 2000.

These racial disparities are decreasing, notes Koster, who says that the data is "not conclusive evidence of racial profiling."

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Regardless, the statistics do show that both black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be subject to searches, even if police are less frequently finding contraband on them compared to white drivers.

Here's an excerpt from Koster's press release that explains this portion of the report's findings:

Search rates (the rates at which drivers of a given race are searched subsequent to a traffic stop) for both Hispanic and African-American drivers continue to be higher than for white drivers. Hispanic drivers were 1.92 times more likely than white drivers to be searched. African-American drivers were 1.83 times more likely to be searched when stopped than white drivers.

Despite the elevated search rates, Hispanics were less likely than white drivers to be found with contraband subsequent to being searched. While the "contraband hit rate" for white drivers was 25.5, the rate of Hispanics searched and found to have contraband was 16.9. The "contraband hit rate" for African-American drivers was 18.8.

Interestingly, Hispanic drivers are stopped at a low rate, but they're searched at a very high rate.

Attorney General Chris Koster. - VIA FACEBOOK
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  • Attorney General Chris Koster.

Black drivers, however, are both stopped and searched at disproportionately high rates. The report's executive summary, on view below, says that "African-Americans represent 10.9 percent of the population 16 and older but 17.06 percent of all vehicle stops.... African-Americans were stopped at a rate 57 percent greater than expected based solely on their proportion of the population 16 and older."

This number is actually a decline from last year's rate for black drivers and marks the third time the disparity has gone down over the last thirteen years.

One important caveat is that the data does include out-of-state drivers who are stopped, even though these drivers may not reflect the ethnic composition of Missouri. Additionally, the report does not consider what percentage of each race are motorists.

The annual report is required by law after the state legislature enacted a policy in 2000 in response to concerns of racial profiling. The law mandates all officers in the state report specific information, including a driver's race, for each vehicle stop, and agencies must submit their data to the attorney general's office, which completes the report.

Continue for more details on the report and a copy of Koster's summary of the findings.

The report also finds that while African American and Hispanic drivers are searched at disproportionately higher rates, they are also arrested at higher rates during these traffic stops. About 7.7 percent of the stops of black drivers and nearly 8.4 percent of the stops of Hispanic drivers resulted in arrest last year, compared with about 4.2 percent of the stops of whites.

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"One of the best uses of these reports is as a springboard for dialogue and communication between law-enforcement agencies and the communities they serve," Koster says in a statement. "It is vital that Missouri law-enforcement agencies continue to review the rates of stops and searches and to continue their outreach efforts."

Here's the full press release summary from Koster's office, followed by a copy of his summary of the report. The attorney general's office also has published extensive information on the findings and reports from previous years at ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops.

Jefferson City, Mo. - Attorney General Chris Koster today released the 13th Annual Report on Vehicle Stops. The 2012 report contains analysis on more than 1.6 million stops by 616 law enforcement agencies, including racial and ethnic information about drivers who were stopped.

Koster said Missourians can visit his website at http://ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops/ to compare the 2012 report to vehicle stops data going back to 2000, when data collection was first required by Missouri law.

"One of the best uses of these reports is as a springboard for dialogue and communication between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve," Koster said. "It is vital that Missouri law enforcement agencies continue to review the rates of stops and searches and to continue their outreach efforts."

The Attorney General reiterated that the disparity index for any community is not conclusive evidence of racial profiling.

The "disparity indexes" compare the proportion of stops for drivers of a particular race or ethnicity to the proportion of state or local population of that racial or ethnic group. A value of "1" represents no disparity; values over "1" indicate over-representation, while values under "1" indicate under-representation.

Koster said in 2012 the statewide African American disparity index was 1.57, down from the 2011 rate of 1.63. This represents the third time in thirteen years that the disparity index for African American drivers has decreased.

The report shows the rate (disparity index) at which Hispanics were stopped decreased in 2012 to .60, compared to .65 in 2011, a rate lower than that of white drivers. However, search rates (the rates at which drivers of a given race are searched subsequent to a traffic stop) for both Hispanic and African American drivers continue to be higher than for white drivers. Hispanic drivers were 1.92 times more likely than white drivers to be searched. African American drivers were 1.83 times more likely to be searched when stopped than white drivers.

Despite the elevated search rates, Hispanics were less likely than white drivers to be found with contraband subsequent to being searched. While the "contraband hit rate" for white drivers was 25.5, the rate of Hispanics searched and found to have contraband was 16.9. The "contraband hit rate" for African American drivers was 18.8.

Koster thanked and commended law-enforcement agencies for their willingness to compile information for the report. He noted that 96 percent of agencies submitted information. Twenty-three agencies did not respond in 2012, a decrease from the twenty-five departments that failed to report in 2011. The Attorney General's office has submitted the names of those agencies that did not respond to the governor, as required by law.

Koster noted that the report contains information on vehicle stops from individual law-enforcement agencies, so each community can examine its own data and situation. For example, it is helpful to compare departments of a similar size or from similar geographic areas. Additionally, factors such as crime patterns or the existence of an interstate highway in a given region may affect data samples. Koster noted that general statewide trends do not necessarily reflect trends for individual departments, which should be considered on an individual basis.

The full report plus data for individual law enforcement agencies can be found online at http://ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops/.

Chris Koster Traffic Stops

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