Report shows arrest rate disparities in Missouri

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COLUMBIA - A new report shows arrest rate disparities among racial groups in Missouri. 

The report indicates for every white person arrest in Columbia, there are more than five black arrests.

Graduate students along with Professor David Herzog at the University of Missouri School of Journalism gathered and analyzed data for Missouri cities. The findings come from cities with at least 10,000 people and a black population of at least 10 percent, based on the 2010 U.S. Census.

In Columbia, the data shows 5.5 black adults are arrested for every white adult.  For juveniles, the black-to-white arrest rate disparity is 5.4.  

MU sociology professor Wayne Brekhus argues minorities are not arrested more simply because they commit more crime, but possibly from an inherent bias against minorities that starts in school.

"Higher offense rates isn't the only explanation or necessarily even the main explanation especially when we get to arrest disparities for petty offenses," Brekhus said. "African American or black students are, depending on the study, two and a half to four times more likely to be suspended than whites for discretionary offenses."

In all cases, the researchers compiled the most recent, complete data available from state, federal and local government information. The indicators were based on data from 2009 through 2013.

MU Associate Law Professor David Mitchell said the early negative interaction with authority sets young minorities on a downward path in the justice system.

"That begins that process again," Mitchell said. "That begins your further criminal record, right? Or your 'school record' which makes you more susceptible of being placed on a referral because now you've got a track record, a history to show that in effect you are somehow problematic."

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Columbia Police Department to comment on the report.  After multiple email and telephone exchanges, department officials declined to discuss the findings.

Mitchell said he thinks that could be attributed to recent events.

"They're basically being watched with a very critical eye," Mitchell said. "What I think is very disappointing is that there's a way law enforcement can explain arrest rate disparities."

Last week, F.B.I. Director James Comey spoke out on police bias and racial issues. Comey said police officers who work in areas with high minority crime rates form a cynicism with certain racial groups.

Comey said: "After years of police work, officers often can't help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others that officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street, even in the same clothes do not."

NAACP Columbia President Mary Ratliffe said she is disappointed about the MU students' report findings, although she does believe Columbia's current police chief has worked with her organization to improve police-minority relations.

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