Community members discuss racial disparities within CPD

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COLUMBIA- The police department held its first meeting Wednesday night to discuss perceived racial disparity issues regarding traffic stops.

Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones led the meeting and said he wanted to hear voices from every part of the community to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.

“We as the police cannot solve the problem. We need help from the community,” Jones said.

The city's 2017 Vehicle Stops Report showed the disparity index for stopping black drivers rose from 3.13 in 2016 to 3.28 in 2017. A disparity index of 1 means that the members of a certain group are stopped at the same rate as their percentage of the population. The state’s disparity index in 2017 was 1.72, significantly lower than the Columbia rate.

Black people make up about 10 percent of the Columbia community but account for about 32 percent of traffic stops. This means black drivers are stopped at more than three times the equitable rate for white drivers in Columbia.

“I don’t have all the answers for why this occurs and in the past, we have taken that information, said it was insufficient and pushed it on down the road and I don’t want to keep kicking the can. I want to get to the bottom of it,” Jones said.

Wednesday’s meeting was introductory, with the members meeting each other and planning future meetings. The racial makeup of the group also came under scrutiny.

“We noted that there was a lack of diversity among the group and I asked for the group to reach out to people in their organizations, in their faith groups, people in the community that would better represent the diversity of our community,” Jones said.

Mary Ratliff is the president of the Columbia NAACP. She said she came to the meeting tonight to be a voice for the people in her organization. But she didn’t realize that she would be one of the few black faces in the crowd.

“I didn’t even think about the importance of being here and making sure the representation is here,” Ratliff said.

The group discussed the makeup of the final committee tasked with solving the racial disparity in traffic stops. The members decided on an approach of balancing data and listening to the concerns of people affected by this issue.