2020 VEHICLE STOPS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
As the chief lawyer for the State of Missouri, my job is to protect each and every one of our six million citizens from crime, abuse and fraud, a responsibility I take very seriously. Our government, the shared responsibility between the citizens of our state and the elected officials, must be a framework that preserves all citizens’ rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
The office of the Missouri Attorney General is required, by law, to collect data on the demographics of the traffic stops made by law enforcement officers from across the state, and to report these findings to the Governor and the public. Importantly, this data can help government and law enforcement determine any issues with disparities related to stops and searches.
This report aggregates the traffic stops data from 590 law enforcement agencies across the state, breaking down the data as it relates to race, the number of stops, the search rate, contraband hit rate and arrest rates. In 2019, we identified several changes to questions that officers must answer when making a stop that we believe will make future reports more informative. This includes questions relating to the officer’s assignment, the residential zip code of the driver stopped and the reason for issuing a citation or warning. This data will provide more context for the data collected and be fully available in the 2021 report.
As we seek to balance the rights of all citizens of our state with the enforcement of the rule of law, and the brave men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect us, we will continue to improve this report.
Concerns raised by the citizens of Missouri and the Missouri legislature regarding allegations of bias in traffic enforcement prompted the passage of SB 1053 (2000). SB 1053 created Section 590.650, RSMo. which became effective August 28, 2000. This statute created the Vehicle Stops Report and required that the Attorney General’s Office collect and report on traffic stops conducted by law enforcement officers across the state of Missouri.
Under § 590.650, RSMo. all peace officers in the state must report specific information, including a driver’s race, for each vehicle stop made in the state. Law enforcement agencies must provide their vehicle stops data to the Attorney General by March 1, and the Attorney General must compile the data and report to the Governor, General Assembly, and each law enforcement agency no later than June 1 of each year. The law allows the Governor to withhold state funds from any agency that does not submit its vehicle stops data to the Attorney General by the statutory deadline.
After reviewing analysis of the Vehicle Stops Report (VSR) and conferring with law enforcement leaders across the state in 2019, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) began implementing comprehensive changes to the VSR. These changes will improve the information collected for the report while allowing for a fundamental shift in the level of analysis possible through the VSR. Three new questions have been added to the report that collect information on officer assignment during the stop, the residential zip code of the stopped driver, and the cause of citations and/or warnings issued to the driver. In addition, other questions have been adjusted for clarity or to improve the value of the data collected by adding new response options.
The most significant change to the VSR is the shift toward collecting disaggregated data from across the state. Currently, agencies only report the aggregate numbers of stops meeting the criteria for each question broken down only by the race and ethnicity of the individual involved in the stop. This reporting framework prevents incident-level analyses that could take into consideration other factors such as driver age, driver sex, and time of stop. Multi-variate analysis of incident-level data will significantly improve VSR analysis. To allow for collection of incident-level data, the AGO moved to implement an optional data collection framework that collects all variables for each stop an agency made during the year, rather than just totals by race for each agency. These changes became effective January 2020 and implementation efforts across the state are ongoing.
The benefits of these changes are already manifested in the current VSR, which provides more detail and in-depth analyses than previous reports, while still retaining all information contained in previous versions. The value of improving the VSR’s data collection framework can be seen in the results found by simply including drivers’ jurisdiction residency status on VSR forms. Analysis of Figure 7 in the appendix reveals that, on average, only 35% of traffic stops conducted by Missouri law enforcement agencies involved residents of their jurisdiction. This reveals a significant weakness in the disparity index, a metric historically central to the VSR, since it uses jurisdictions’ resident population as a benchmark for expected traffic stop patterns.
The summary of statewide vehicle stops data has been provided by Dr. Jeffrey Milyo, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri in Columbia; and Dr. Brittany Street, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri at Columbia.