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Report shows racial, ethnic disparities persist when it comes to drivers stopped by police

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: African-American drivers in Missouri are more likely to be pulled over by police although subsequent vehicle searches show that white drivers are more likely to be carrying something illegal.

And Hispanic drivers -- while the least likely to be pulled over -- are the most likely of the three groups to be searched. While they were the least likely to be carrying anything illegal, Hispanic drivers were the most likely to get arrested.

Those are among the highlights in the state’s 13th annual report on vehicle stops released Friday by Attorney General Chris Koster. 

“The 2012 report contains analysis on more than 1.6 million stops by 616 law enforcement agencies, including racial and ethnic information about drivers who were stopped,’’ the release said.

According to the report’s “disparity index,’’ the disparate pullover rates for African-Americans and Hispanics has continued to drop. For African-Americans, the decline in 2012 marks the third time in the 13 years since the study began, Koster said.

The attorney general emphasized that “the disparity index for any community is not conclusive evidence of racial profiling.”

“One of the best uses of these reports is as a springboard for dialogue and communication between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve,” Koster said. “It is vital that Missouri law enforcement agencies continue to review the rates of stops and searches and to continue their outreach efforts.”

As the release explains: “The ‘disparity indexes’ compare the proportion of stops for drivers of a particular race or ethnicity to the proportion of state or local population of that racial or ethnic group. A value of ‘1’ represents no disparity; values over ‘1’ indicate over-representation, while values under ‘1’ indicate under-representation.”

In 2012, the statewide disparity index for African-Americans was 1.57, down from the 2011 rate of 1.63. The rate for Hispanics had declined in 2012 to .60, compared to .65 in 2011.  The rate for whites was .96.

The search rate for both minority groups was higher than for white drivers. “Hispanic drivers were 1.92 times more likely than white drivers to be searched,” the attorney general’s office said. “African-American drivers were 1.83 times more likely to be searched when stopped than white drivers. “

“Despite the elevated search rates, Hispanics were less likely than white drivers to be found with ‘contraband’ subsequent to being searched,” the report continued. “ While the ‘contraband hit rate’ for white drivers was 25.5, the rate of Hispanics searched and found to have contraband was 16.9. The ‘contraband hit rate’ for African-American drivers was 18.8.”

However, the percentage of arrests among those stopped was highest for Hispanics, where close to 9 percent were arrested. The rate for African-Americans was slighly below 8 percent, while the rate for whites was just over 4 percent.

The report was based on information submitted by 96 percent of the law enforcement agencies throughout the state. “Twenty-three agencies did not respond in 2012, a decrease from the 25 departments that failed to report in 2011,” Koster’s report said.  The names of those agencies has been forwarded to Gov. Jay Nixon’s office, as required by law.

Koster emphasized that it was most productive to compare the rate change within a community or law enforcement agency, or “to compare departments of a similar size or from similar geographic areas. Additionally, factors such as crime patterns or the existence of an interstate highway in a given region may affect data samples.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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