Black Missourians are more likely to be pulled over than their white neighbors. Much more likely.
Each year since 2000, the Attorney General of Missouri publishes the Vehicle Stops Report (VSR), which shows data on each time a driver is pulled over by an officer in the state. For the last 19 years, the report has consistently shown that Black drivers are more likely than their white counterparts to have their vehicle stopped by law enforcement. It has also shown that the problem is getting worse.
The VSR uses a Disparity Index (DI) to show differences in stop rates for each racial group. In a world completely free of implicit or explicit bias, a municipality with 10,000 total residents and 2,000 Black residents could expect its Black population to represent roughly 20% of the Vehicle Stops, producing a DI of 1. With 1 being true neutral, a higher DI shows the higher rate in which a racial group is pulled over relative to their share of the population.
In 2018, the Disparity Index for Black Missourians was 1.65, the highest it has been since 2000. While the Black DI has been on a steady incline for the last 19 years, the white DI has instead stayed nearly constant at roughly .95.
To better understand this difference, take a look at the graph below. This shows each racial group’s percentage of Missouri’s total population. If you hover over the chart, however, you’ll see that Black Missourians make up an outsized percentage of total Vehicle Stops.
The disparity doesn’t end with being pulled over, either. Non-white drivers, particularly Black and Hispanic drivers, are searched at a rate that far exceeds their white counterparts. Below, you can see how often individuals from each race are searched after being stopped.
This drastic difference in search rates is despite the fact that Black and Hispanic drivers are slightly less likely to have illegal contraband on them than white people, who have the highest contraband hit rate of any racial group.
For the last 19 years, the Vehicle Stops Report has shown a consistent pattern of disparate racial impact when it comes to law enforcement’s decision to pull over a motorist. There are many factors that play into this decision-making, but the overwhelming rate of disparity affecting the Black population of Missourians demands action be taken.
This report does not exist in a vacuum. It was recently revealed that many officers in St. Louis had been posting racist and discriminatory messages and graphics on social media. The state of Missouri cannot simply continue to publish a report or see on the news that evidence of racist attitudes and behaviors by police is growing. It is an indictment of all of us that we have not acted with urgency to demand accountability and change.
A dedicated group of community advocates, supported by Empower Missouri staff, hosted a series of “listening sessions” between the Jefferson City Police Department and residents of the community. These sessions have allowed the JCPD to hear from residents and receive suggestions on how they can better gain the trust of the community that employs them. We encourage other communities to enter into similar dialogue.Along with implicit bias and sensitivity training and community policing practices, such dialogue holds promise to improve outcomes. Black Missourians must feel safe in their own state.