Missouri's annual vehicle stops report, released Tuesday, shows minority drivers were pulled over at a higher rate in 2020 than white drivers — statewide and locally.
Law enforcement officials said the report shows they are dealing with all races in an equitable way, and additional information collected in this year's report may help give a better picture of what is taking place on stops in the future.
The president of the Missouri NAACP said the report is troubling that the minority community is still being pulled over at a disproportionate rate.
In 2000, Missouri legislators passed a statute requiring "all peace officers" to report information for each vehicle stop made in the state. The Attorney General's Office has since released its annual Vehicle Stops Report every year, showing the number of stops, as well as post-stop information, for the state and communities. The premise behind the statute was to address issues of racial profiling in Missouri, according to the Attorney General's Office website.
"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," Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said. "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 be fully available in the 2021 report."
This year's report uses the state's population figures for 2019.
The largest sector is white residents, 81.2 percent. Just more than 11 percent are Black, and 3.5 percent are Hispanic.
Of the more than 1.16 million total stops made by law officers in the state in 2020, there were more than 897,600 made on white drivers. The number of white drivers who were Missouri residents was more than 475,100.
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The total number of Black drivers stopped was more than 209,200. Black residents of Missouri were stopped just more than 92,000 times. The total number of stops for Hispanic drivers was more than 29,700, and the number for Hispanic Missouri residents stopped was more than 12,800.
"The value of improving the VSR's data collection can be seen in the results found by simply including the drivers' jurisdiction residency status," Schmitt said. "Our analysis reveals that, on average, only 35 percent 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 disparity index, which this year was based on 2015-2019 average population estimates from the U.S. Census, looks at proportion of stops to the proportion of the population.
A value of 1 indicates a group's proportion of vehicle stops equals its population proportion. If the value is above 1, there is over-representation, and if the value is below 1, it's under-representation in traffic stops.
The statewide disparity index for all stops showed the rate for white drivers was 0.95, which would indicate they were stopped at slightly below the rate for their population figures. The rate for white Missouri resident drivers was .99.
Black drivers had a total disparity index of 1.62, which would indicate they were stopped at a rate greater than expected for their population figures. The rate for Black state resident drivers was 1.4.
The total disparity index for Hispanic drivers was 0.73 while the rate for Hispanic state resident drivers was 0.62.
Black motorists were 71 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and 25 percent more likely to be arrested. The report found an average of 22.64 out of every 100 white motorists were stopped, compared to 38.77 out of every 100 Black motorists.
For arrests, 3.7 percent of white motorists who were pulled over were arrested, compared to 4.61 percent of Black drivers who were pulled over.
Those percentages were actually an improvement. In 2019, Black drivers were 95 percent more likely to be pulled over by police in Missouri, and 36 percent more likely to be arrested.
Still, the numbers remain troubling, said Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri NAACP.
"The NAACP is deeply concerned that even in a pandemic where large portions of the minority community were providing essential services, we were still pulled over at an incredibly high and disproportionate rate," Chapel said.
Jefferson City traffic stops
Jefferson City's population is 75.1 percent white, 17.8 percent Black and 2.67 percent Hispanic, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.
Last year, the Jefferson City Police Department made 8,086 traffic stops with 5,461 of those involving white drivers, 2,481 Black drivers, 74 Hispanics, one Native American, 35 Asians and 34 others. The breakdown for residents stopped by JCPD shows 5,475 total stops with 3,391 involving white drivers, 1,997 involving Black drivers, 40 involving Hispanic drivers, 26 involving Asians and 21 others.
Of the 624 total arrests made from those stops, 342 were white drivers, 271 were Black and 11 were Hispanic.
The disparity index for all white driver stops in Jefferson City was 0.89. For Black drivers, it was 1.71, and it was 0.34 for Hispanic drivers. For resident white drivers, it was 0.82, 2.0 for Black drivers and 0.27 for Hispanic drivers.
The stop rate for all white drivers was 20.6, 39.4 for Black drivers and 7.8 for Hispanic drivers. The stop rate for resident white drivers was 12.8, 31.7 for Black drivers and 4.2 for Hispanic drivers.
The arrest rate, which is not broken down between residents and non-residents, was 6.2 for white drivers, 10.9 for Black drivers and 14.8 for Hispanic drivers.
"We've previously said that we went to a quarterly review of the individual figures to ensure our officers are aware of their actions and the fact that the commanders are monitoring their activities," Jefferson City Police Department Chief Roger Schroeder said. "Our numbers have been very consistent over the previous several years, which may indicate that's a reflection of the racial makeup of our city. I have never instituted a quota, and I never will. The officers are directed to fairly and equitably enforce the law.
"We have nothing to gain by allowing the numbers to remain at the level they have been," he continued. "I could direct selective enforcement (reverse discrimination), but that is clearly unprofessional immoral, unfair and as equally wrong on all levels as the reverse."
The reasons for stops in Jefferson City were mostly for problems with licenses, 3,269. There were 5,501 warnings issued. Most of the 7,119 stops were on city streets.
Cole County numbers
Cole County's population is 83.4 percent white, 11.4 percent Black and 2.2 percent Hispanic.
Cole County Sheriff's Department deputies made 4,586 traffic stops in 2020. Of that number, 3,086 were stops involving county residents. Overall, there were 3,893 white drivers stopped, 545 Black drivers, 102 Hispanic drivers, seven Native Americans, 22 Asian and 17 others. When looking at the stops involving county residents, 2,583 white drivers were stopped, 408 Black drivers were stopped, and 70 Hispanic drivers were stopped. Six Native Americans, 11 Asians and eight others were stopped.
"I think it's a good representation of what we do every day," Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said. "We will always strive to improve, but I'm very proud of the job we've done."
Of the 270 total arrests Cole County deputies made in 2020, 192 white drivers were arrested, 66 Black drivers, 11 Hispanic drivers and one Native American driver. The arrest rate for white drivers was 4.93 percent, 12.11 for Black drivers and 10.78 percent for Hispanic drivers.
The disparity index on all stops in the county showed the index for white driver stops was 1.01. For Black drivers, it was 1.04, and it was 0.99 for Hispanic drivers. For county resident stops, it was 1.0 for white drivers, 1.16 for Black drivers and 1.01 for Hispanic drivers.
The stop rate for all white drivers in Cole County was 7.6. For Black drivers, it was 7.83, and it was 7.4 for Hispanic drivers. The stop rate for resident white drivers was 5.0, 5.8 for Black drivers and 5.1 for Hispanic drivers.
The arrest rate, which is not broken down between residents and non-residents, was 4.9 for white drivers, 12.1 for Black drivers and 10.7 for Hispanic drivers.
The reasons for stops in Cole County were mostly for moving violations (such as failing to stop at a stop sign), 2,758. There was a total of 3,706 warnings issued. Most of the stops, 1,760, were on state highways.
Officials at the Attorney General's Office said the 2020 VSR should be viewed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it is, "very likely that COVID-19 led to a reduction in traffic stops during 2020 as law enforcement sought to minimize inter- person contact."
Figures in the report showed almost 24 percent fewer vehicle stops by law enforcement agencies in 2020 compared to the previous year. The stop rate for the white population fell from 29.67 to 22.64, and the stop rate for the Black population fell from 57.7 to 38.77.
"We train, direct, discipline, if deemed necessary, monitor and employ all reasonable means to ensure fairness in our enforcement activities," Schroeder said. "We currently have 67 line officers, considering five vacancies and excluding supervisory personnel, and 22.4 percent of our force are African-American or Hispanic.
"Our diversity efforts have obviously paid dividends," he added. That figure reflects a number approximately twice what it was several years ago. It is extremely difficult to attract police officer candidates as experienced by departments across our country. We are absolutely committed to building a police department which reflects the diversity of those we serve.
"We also benefited from the officers fleeing the metropolitan areas. New York City is projected to lose approximately 23.6 percent or over 8,600 of their officers during the 2020-21 two-year period. We recently hired an officer from Los Angeles Police Department and one from the New York City Police Department. They very much appreciate the support they receive from our community," he said.
The Missouri NAACP in 2017 issued a travel advisory warning people against travel in Missouri because of a danger civil rights won't be respected. That report was based in large part on the attorney general's annual traffic stop report. Chapel said the latest version of the report is evidence why the advisory has not been lifted four years later.
"We can see that that pattern is still continuing," Chapel said. "There's been no meaningful effort at the state level to change it in any way."
The Associated Press contributed information to this story.