When police officers don’t have probable cause to search a car, which drivers do they suspect?
Data in the Missouri Vehicle Stops Report (VSR) indicates that in many jurisdictions African-American drivers are more likely to be asked for consent than European-American drivers.
African-American drivers are also more likely to be stopped in the first place, but it’s difficult to prove a disproportion in the stops, because, for instance, officers often can’t determine ethnicity before a stop. Consent searches can be, however, an indicator of bias.
Bigotry–explicit bias–is rare among officers, but, just like the rest of us, they are still influenced by our history of racism – slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and so on. Bias is most likely to be unconscious or implicit. We all need to recognize our biases before we can begin to control them.
Many officers are not aware African-American drivers are treated differently in traffic stops. Once aware, most of them would welcome help learning to do their jobs better. The VSR is an important tool for proving bias does exist, so that we have a motivation to work together to fix the problem.
Several agencies–Blue Springs, St. Ann, Lee’s Summit, and so on–have made a concerted efforts to strengthen leadership and supervision, improve policies against bias-based policing and train officers to control implicit bias. The fact that their disparities have declined for the officer actions we think are the best indicators proves implicit bias is a problem but it can be controlled.
In the Documents section to the right are files analyzing the VSR:
- 2014 VSR Statewide presents disparities for all officer actions in the state.
- 2014 VSR Sample Agencies present disparities for about 40 sample law enforcement agencies.
- Consent Searches explains why officers like consent searches but why drivers find them coercive, and what to do about it.
- Call for VSR Change identifies things the Attorney General can change in the VSR without legislative action.
- Recommendations to Improve Policing is a blog in response to the director of the Columbia Peace Officers Association calling for Darren Wilson Day.
If you have questions or need the materials in another format, let me know.