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Missouri Attorney General

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON 2000 MISSOURI VEHICLE STOPS

I. BACKGROUND

Concerns by the citizens of Missouri and the Missouri legislature regarding allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement prompted the passage of state law Section 590.650, RSMo (2000), which was enacted Aug. 28, 2000. Racial profiling has been defined as the inappropriate use of race by law enforcement when making a decision to stop, search or arrest a motorist.

Missouri's new state law requires that all peace officers in the state report specific information including a driver's race for each traffic stop made in the state. Law enforcement agencies are required to turn in the data to the Attorney General, and the Attorney General is required to compile the data and report to the Governor no later than June 1 of each year. The law allows the Governor to withhold state funds for any agency which does not comply with the law. The information for this report includes data collected throughout the state from Aug. 28-Dec. 31, 2000, as required by law. Subsequent reports will include a full year of data, as required by law.

State law requires that all information be reported to the Attorney General's office by March 1. In an earlier letter to the Governor, Attorney General Jay Nixon listed the agencies that had not, for various reasons, complied with the law by failing to submit racial profiling data.

The summary of statewide racial profiling data has been provided by Scott H. Decker, Ph.D., Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis; and Jack McDevitt, College of Criminal Justice, Northeastern University. The analysis of the data is provided by Attorney General Nixon, with consultation from law enforcement officials and community representatives from throughout Missouri and with professional statistical interpretation from Dr. Decker.

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II. FINDINGS

Table 1. Agencies that did not submit reports as required by state law 2
Table 1. Agencies that did not submit reports as required by state law
Altenburg Police Department Archie Police Department Canalou Police Department
Clarksburg Police Department Forest City Police Department Holland Police Department
Tarkio Police Department Twin Bridges Police Department

This report summarizes the data from more than 95 percent of law enforcement agencies in Missouri during a four-month period in 2000.

The agencies filing reports noted a total of 453,189 traffic stops, resulting in 31,906 searches and 23,716 arrests. Table 2 breaks out the stops, searches and arrests by race and ethnic group.

Table 2. 2000 statewide summary of results
Key Indicators Total White Black Hispanic Asian Am. Indian Other
Population 4,167,519 3,600,107 433,672 75,962 59,603 43,010 41,086
Stops 453,189 377,852 59,945 8,041 3,770 574 3,007
Searches 31,906 23,966 6,601 1,042 96 50 151
Arrests 23,716 17,196 5,404 693 87 228 108
Statewide population % 100% 86.38% 10.41% 1.82% 1.43% 1.03% .99%
Disparity index - - - .97 1.27 .98 .58 .12 .67
Search rate 7.04% 6.34% 11.01% 12.96% 2.55% 8.71% 5.02%

Notes: Population data are for persons age 18 and older. Black, Asian, and American Indian include persons of mixed race. Asian includes Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. Other includes persons of unknown race. The census population figures include persons who designated a single racial classification plus those who designated more than one race. Therefore the population figures for the different racial groups exceed the statewide total and the percentages exceed 100%.

Disparity index = proportion of stops / proportion of population. A value of 1 represents no disparity. Values greater or less than 1 indicate over- and under-representation, respectively. For the state figures (used in this table) the disparity index is based on state population 18 and over. For individual agencies the disparity index is based on local population 18 and over.3

Search rate = (searches / stops) X 100.

Two summary indicators are included that may be useful in initiating further assessments of racial profiling in traffic stops.

The first, termed the "Disparity Index," relates each group's proportion of total traffic stops to its proportion of the population age 18 and older. (Data from the 2000 census for the driving age population were not available at the time this report was produced.) A value of 1 on this index indicates that a group's proportion of traffic stops equals its population proportion; it is neither "under-represented" nor "over-represented" in traffic stops. Values above 1 indicate over-representation, and those below 1 indicate under-representation. For example, the 377,852 whites who were stopped accounted for 83% of all traffic stops.

Table 2 indicates that whites comprise 86% of Missouri's adult population. The value for whites on the Disparity Index is, therefore .83 /.86, or .97.

Whites were stopped, in other words, at just slightly below the rate we would expect based on their fraction of the population.

The same is not the case for several of the other groups. African Americans represent 10.4% of the population 18 years and older, but 13.2% of all traffic stops, for a value on the Disparity Index of 1.27. African Americans were stopped at a rate 27% higher than expected based solely on their proportion of the population. Hispanics were stopped at a rate nearly equal to their population proportion, and Asians, American Indians, and persons of other or unknown race were stopped at a rate below their proportion of the population. The values on the Index for the different groups can be compared directly to one another. The likelihood that a black motorist was stopped is 1.3 times that of a white motorist (1.27/.97).

THE SECOND INDICATOR that can be used to begin assessing racial profiling is the "Search Rate," or the number of searches divided by the number of stops (x 100). The Search Rate for all motorists who were stopped is 7.04%. Whites, American Indians, and persons of other or unknown race were searched at rates close to the statewide average. (Searches include searches of drivers and of property in the vehicle.) Asians were searched at a rate well below the statewide average, and Blacks and Hispanics were searched at rates above the average for all motorists who were stopped. The search rate for the different groups also can be compared directly with one another. Blacks were 1.7 times more likely to be searched than whites (11.01/6.34). Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.96/6.34).

The Disparity Index is a gauge of the likelihood drivers of a given race or ethnic group are stopped based on their proportion of the adult residential population age 18 and over, and not of the population of motorists on the state's streets, roads, and highways. A group's share of the residential population age 18 and over may or may not equal its proportion of drivers. Although in most instances the two proportions should be close, that may not always be the case. The extremely low Index values for American Indians, for example, could indicate that they are under-represented among the state's motorists. In addition, motorists from other states are stopped on Missouri's roadways. To the extent that out-of-state drivers do not reflect the race and ethnic composition of Missouri's population, the Disparity Index will not accurately portray the probability that Missouri residents are stopped.

The Search Rate is subject to a somewhat different set of considerations. The reasons for conducting a search and the outcome of the search (i.e., discovery of contraband) should be considered when making comparisons across groups. Some searches are conducted with the consent of the driver, or because the officer observed suspected contraband in plain view, had reasonable suspicion that an individual may possess a weapon (Terry search), or other reasons. These searches may or may not result in an arrest. Other searches are conducted incident to arrest -- this means there is no other reason given for the search other than arrest. Searches are almost always performed when there is an outstanding warrant.

Table 2 includes all arrests resulting from traffic stops reported by the agencies. About 5% of all traffic stops resulted in an arrest (23,716/453,189). The probability of arrest varies across the groups. Approximately 9% of the stops of African Americans and Hispanics resulted in an arrest, compared with about 2% of the stops of Asians and 4.5% of those of whites. Although American Indians were stopped infrequently compared with the other groups, 40% of those stops resulted in an arrest. African Americans and Hispanics were stopped and searched more often than whites, but they were arrested more often as well.

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III. ANALYSIS BY ATTORNEY GENERAL JAY NIXON

Missouri's new law regarding racial profiling was enacted in response to concerns that minorities are inappropriately targeted for traffic stops because of their race. The law directed each law enforcement agency to have a policy against racial profiling. The law was intended to help us learn if racial profiling is occurring in Missouri. This is the first statewide effort to collect data, and it is based on a four-month collection period.

It is worth noting that the collection of this data, its entry into computerized form and the analysis were all undertaken in response to a very short deadline. As this is the first effort on the part of the state to collect and analyze such data, this year's work should be regarded as a baseline measure. With that in mind, there are several findings that should be noted.

First, the data collected clearly show a disproportionate number of stops of African Americans as well as a disproportionate number of searches of African Americans and Hispanics. African Americans were stopped at a rate 27% higher than expected based solely on their proportion in the population. When compared to whites, they were stopped at a rate 30% higher, or they were 1.3 times as likely as whites to be stopped. African Americans were 1.7 times more likely to be searched than whites. Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to be searched.

There is, however, a very real difference between disproportion in the data and racial profiling.

Many officers and police departments will point to a variety of important considerations that will affect their data. These include:

  • Increased policing in high crime areas where minorities are often the victims, as well as the perpetrators of crimes. Patrol of "hot spot" areas is an appropriate response to the well-documented fact that crime, and especially violent crime, is heavily concentrated in certain geographic areas.
  • The presence of interstate highways, large shopping centers or major employers affect the demographics of the driving population (as opposed to the resident population reported in the census) and will affect the proportionality of stops and arrests.

In addition, in many instances officers have very little discretion on whether to stop or search someone. A motorist exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph is far more likely to be pulled over than one going 2 mph over the limit. A motorist with an outstanding arrest warrant will, and should, be arrested and will, and should, be searched pursuant to that arrest. This is good police work and is important to the safety of the officer.

It also must be noted that for many stops an officer is not even aware of the driver's race until the officer approaches the car. This is particularly true on interstates after dark.

Regardless of the challenges of securing accurate data and the difficulty of analyzing the data once collected, the overall goal to prevent profiling solely on the basis of race is a worthy one. I acknowledge the limits of our information -- we are using a four-month study period and this is the first-ever attempt at data collection in Missouri and one of the first in the country. And, while data alone cannot prove racial profiling, the data collected in this initial study have done nothing to disprove the perception of racial profiling.

In my travels across the state since the enactment of Missouri's Racial Profiling law last August, numerous highly respected members of Missouri's minority community have told me of their personal experiences on our roadways. While anecdotes are not evidence, they do, at a minimum, convey people's perceptions. Anecdotal information, combined with levels of disproportion in the data, leads me to believe that African Americans and Hispanics have in certain instances been the target of racial profiling in Missouri. We in law enforcement must recognize this as a problem and work to eliminate it.

Our work toward that goal has already begun. The collection of statistics and information regarding law enforcement activities has and will continue to increase awareness of and sensitivity to the issue of racial profiling. The implementation of data collection sends a clear message to police and citizens that racial profiling is inconsistent with effective policy and equal protection. In addition, a policy on racial profiling must now be on file in every police department in Missouri. These are important steps in our goal of equal justice under the law.

In addition, the Missouri legislature this year passed new Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) requirements stating that:

Peace officers who make traffic stops shall be required to receive annual training concerning the prohibition against racial profiling and such training shall promote understanding and respect for racial and cultural differences and the use of effective, non-combative methods for carrying out law enforcement duties in a racially and culturally diverse environment.

We need to do more. Internal analysis of the data by each agency and open dialogue with the community will improve community policing efforts and will help build trust of the police in the communities they serve. The data are useful in:

  • Pointing out areas where improvements need to be made in our training of law enforcement officers. For example, these data show that non-white drivers are no more likely to be carrying contraband than are white drivers. Our officers, who may be carrying out their duties not intending to discriminate based on race, should be trained to no longer improperly consider a person's race in deciding whether or not to stop that person.
  • Allowing our law enforcement agencies to more effectively supervise their officers on the streets. Thus, information gathered by law enforcement agencies must be reviewed by those agencies, not just at the end of the reporting year, but periodically throughout the year.
  • And, most of all, opening or facilitating better communication between our law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, particularly our minority communities. It is only through such communication that perceptions -- both of law enforcement as well as our community members -- can be changed.

This report represents the valid and good faith attempt by law enforcement in Missouri, including the Office of the Attorney General, to comply with the requirements of Section 590.650 RSMo (2000). And while it is up to each jurisdiction in Missouri to determine what the results mean in individual communities, I am convinced Missouri must do a better job of providing equal justice under the law.

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FOOTNOTES

Footnote 1: On April 5, 2001, Attorney General Nixon submitted to Gov. Holden a list of all agencies that had not turned in reports. State law requires reports to be submitted by March 1 and allows the Governor to withhold funds from those that did not comply.

Footnote 2: The appendix to this report shows the disparity index using comparison of proportion of stops to proportion of state population.

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