Attorney General report shows racial disparity in traffic stops

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COLUMBIA - A report released Monday by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster shows racial disparity between the number of black drivers versus white drivers being pulled over.

The report features a "disparity index," which measures the number of times members of a racial group are pulled over compared to that group's share of the total driving-age population.

The disparity rate for African-Americans in 2014 was 1.66, which is the highest it has been since data collection began in 2000.

According to the report, that number means that African-American drivers were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers on Missouri roads.

"It's discouraging that the number is that high," said Don Love, Chairman of the Human Rights Task Force for Empower Missouri, "We'd like to think that we treat everyone equally in the United States."

Love said there are a lot of causes for the disproportion other than bias on the part of officers. He said officers are often called to patrol areas with high crime rates. High crimes tend to be associated with lower income neighborhoods, he said.

"And state-wide in Missouri, African-Americans tend to be lower-income more frequently than whites," Love said.

Tom O'Sullivan, detective for the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said he doesn't think the report reflects bias in law enforcement.

"Do me a favor," said O'Sullivan, "Next time you're driving, look at the car right in front of you and tell me if you can make out if the person is black or white, male or female. A lot of the time you can't tell the race of a driver until you pull them over."

The Attorney General's report also says the numbers don't necessarily reflect bias.

"While statistical disproportion does not prove that law enforcement officers are making vehicle stops based on the perceived race or ethnicity of the driver," Koster said, "this compilation and analysis of data provides law enforcement, legislators, and the public a starting point as they consider improvements to process and changes of policy to address these issues."

Love said Empower Missouri agrees that, in general, Missouri officers aren't racially biased. He said measures can be taken to ensure those problems don't arise, such as community-wide race discussions as well as special training for officers.

"Although the data don't prove bias, as Koster says in the report, the disproportions are enough to certainly make you think twice," Love said.

(Editor's note: This story was changed to clarify a quote from Tom O'Sullivan.)

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