Missouri Attorney General Reports Racial Profiling

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COLUMBIA - Some African Americans refer to it as DWB -- Driving While Black. However, the common name for this issue is racial profiling. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is using numbers to measure the problem of racial profiling is in his state. The most recent statistics actually aren't recent at all, they're from 2008. Regardless, the numbers worry Koster.

The key statistics are the contraband hit rate andthe arrest rate. The contraband hit rate is the fraction of the time members of a certain race have illegal contraband when they are pulled over by police. Arrest percentage is the fraction of the time members of a certain race are arrested when they get pulled over. 

White people have a contraband hit rate of about 20 percent compared to 16 and a half percent for black people. However, white people have an arrest rate of nearly six percent, lower than that of black people at eight and a half. Simply put, white people are found to have illegal contraband on them more often than black people when they are pulled over by the police, but they are arrested less frequently when pulled over.

Looking deeper into the numbers, these disparities could be attributed elsewhere, though red flags of racial profiling would still exit. Attorney General Koster also looked at the search rate of drivers who have been pulled over. When white people were pulled over, their cars were searched about 7 percent of the time. Black people that were pulled over had their vehicles searched almost twice as often at nearly twelve percent of the time. 

Former sargeant with the Columbia Police Department, John Worden, now works for the Columbia Law Enforcement Training Institute. He isn't hesitant to talk about local issues of race-based traffic stops.

"I'm not going to say racial profiling doesn't happen, even here in mid-Missouri," he said. "I haven't personally seen it in my 20 years, but I would never say it doesn't still happened. 

Nathan Stephens, the senior coordinator of Mizzou's Black Culture Center knows too well what it means to be racially profiled. 

"I don't want to feel like I'm constantly being harrassed for no reason," Stephens said. "I've been pulled over more than once where I asked the officer what I did and his best response to me was 'this is an area where we get the report of a lot of stolen vehicles.'"

As for discretion, Stephens recalled a terrifying experience from his youth.

"I was walking downtown with my friend, when a white officer stopped his car next to us and pulled a shotgun on us, yelling for us to show our hands. He 'cuffed us and said he was looking for a 40-year-old man who had just robbed the Hardee's. I was a scraggly, skinny 13-year-old kid. How could I possibly be mistaken for a middle-aged man?"

Most local police departments have a specific department dedicated to handling issues of discrimination and human rights.