Two cities discuss their numbers on the Vehicle Stops Report

4 weeks 2 days 59 minutes ago Sunday, July 15 2018 Jul 15, 2018 Sunday, July 15, 2018 6:56:00 PM CDT July 15, 2018 in News
By: Jared Smith, KOMU 8 Reporter
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BOONE COUNTY - Two cities in Boone County have higher numbers of traffic stops involving minorities, according to an annual report, but police in both communities say the numbers don't tell the complete story.

Every year the Missouri Attorney General's Office releases its Vehicle Stops Report, which breaks down traffic stops by county or city, and by demographics.

A key number on the report is the racial disparity index. This compares the proportion of stops involving certain demographic groups with the proportion of the respective group in the population.

A disparity index of 1 would show the number of times members of a specific demographic are stopped coincides with the percent of that demographic's portion of the population. A disparity index lower than 1 shows a lower rate of stops, and higher than 1 shows a higher rate of stops.

KOMU 8 News reached out to police in Hallsville, one of the cities showing a higher disparity index. 

Hallsville has a population of 1,491 people. Thirteen of those people are black, making up 0.8 percent of the city's population.

Police chief Robert Bias said, "We had 400 traffic stops in the year of 2017. Twenty-nine of them were black people that we're passing through."

In the 2017 Vehicle Stop Report, 29 of the 400 stops in Hallsville were black people. These numbers put Hallsville at a racial disparity index of 15.69, the highest in Boone County. In other words, the numbers show black people are stopped 15 times more often than the population numbers would suggest.

Bias said the current system is flawed because it does not account for pass-through traffic.

"The racial disparity index needs to be done differently. You can't base it on a 2010 population for one, but you can't base it on population of white versus black versus Hispanic or anything else," Bias said.

Just over seven percent of all traffic stops in Hallsville were black people. Bias argues not all of those traffic stops involved Hallsville residents. 

"The average daily traffic count just on Route B, within the city limits of Hallsville, was 7,941. That's average daily traffic count. I'm sorry, not all of those are residents," Bias said.

The Attorney General's office said it will include a person's hometown in future reports.

KOMU 8 News also looked at the racial disparity index in Columbia. The racial disparity index numbers from 2017 are a 3.28, higher than last year at 3.16. That means black people were stopped at a rate three times higher than the population would suggest.

Columbia's black population, according to the 2010 Census, is at 12,217 people. This makes up 11 percent of the total population in Columbia.  The number of total traffic stops in 2017 was 12,487, with just over four thousand being black people, or roughly one-third.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said in a press release, "The data shows the vehicle stops tend to be conducted in areas where we see the highest number of reported violent crimes; calls for service and accidents."

For some, this is too much policing in certain areas. Race Matters, Friends member Chad McLaurin said Columbia has one of the highest rates of policing differences.

"There's about a 400 percent difference between the rate at which communities are policed around [the city] versus what the black community is specifically feeling," McLaurin said.

Burton said in a press release, "We found that those officers were generally pulling over individuals in the beat they are assigned to or had a high disparity index because they didn't pull over many people." 

Traffic stop numbers between Columbia and Independence, which has nearly the same population as Columbia, support Burton's statement. Police in Independence made 9,000 more traffic stops than Columbia did in 2017.

But people in Columbia are still unhappy with CPD, and especially with Police Chief Burton.

McLaurin feels Burton should resign.

"I think that he is a barrier. I think in the same way that Matthes is kind of a choke point for power. I think they are absolutely the wrong people to implement the change," McLaurin said.

The Columbia Police Department has started looking at changing its approach to how it polices the community. Earlier in the year, the department and city leaders started developing a community policing program.

Community policing is a way for police and community members to interact more with each other. It keeps officers in specific areas of the city so they have better relationships with citizens.

A budget for the program will be brought to the city in August.

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