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Missouri report on traffic stops revives call for anti-discrimination policies

Redditt Hudson, of the Urban League of St. Louis, was one of several local advocates responding to the 2017 Vehicle Stops Report on June 4, 2018.
Ashley Lisenby | St. Louis Public Radio

Black drivers are more likely to be stopped by police than other groups in Missouri. That’s what a report from Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office shows from data collected in 2017.

The annual Vehicle Stops Report shows black drivers were stopped at a rate of 85 percent higher than white drivers throughout the state. Black and Hispanic drivers were searched at higher rates than average as well. In cases of searches, white drivers were reportedly found with contraband more often.

Redditt Hudson, vice president of Civil Rights and Advocacy at the Urban League, said the report’s findings were an “indictment of our will to do the right thing, of our will to acknowledge the full extent of the problem.” Hudson is a former St. Louis police officer.

MORE | Read the 2017 Vehicle Stops Report

Policing that disproportionately impacts one group over others “reflects how race not only impacts police, community interactions but every part of our criminal justice system and every part of our society.” 

Hudson is one of several members of The Coalition for Fair Policing who addressed the public at a news conference Monday at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Group members said they want updated policies that call for changes to consent searches, better data collection and limiting “hot-spot policing,” which concentrates policing in particular areas. Members said they support legislation that they believe would create more accountability.

ACLU of Missouri organizer Mustafa Abdullah named two proposals in the legislature, HB 2172 and SB 828, known as the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act, that advocate for what sponsors call fair policing. Supporters said the measures call for fact-based policing and not assumptions based on race.

“Our officers should be able to clearly explain why they have stopped someone. This is how we help officers and the communities they serve better understand one another,” Abdullah said.

"Missouri has a constitutional and ethical obligation to strive for an equitable society where people are not stopped simply because of their race." — Mustafa Abdullah

There is some skepticism among advocates who believe the bills could be stalled in the legislature because of polarizing views around police and crime.

At least 16 police departments did not submit a vehicle stops report to the state by March 1. More than 50 other departments did not report stops because they contract out stops to other agencies.  Missouri has 677 law enforcement agencies.

In St. Louis, police reportedly stopped more than 28,000 black drivers over the age of 16 last year and almost 15,000 white drivers. Reasons for the stops included moving violations and license plate infractions.

Most of the St. Louis traffic stops happened on city streets opposed to U.S. and state highways, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Many of those stopped were reportedly male and young people between the ages of 18 and 29. City police reported finding drugs and alcohol, weapons or stolen property more often when searching black drivers.

A St. Louis Police Department spokeswoman said Chief John Hayden has seen the report. The department has not said how it will address the findings.

“We have to learn how to stop people fairly, how to treat people fairly, and the racial profiling numbers as they stand, they’re egregious. They’re horrible,” said Sgt. Heather Taylor leader of Ethical Society of Police.

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Ashley Lisenby is the race, identity and culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She came to KWMU from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where she was a general assignment reporter who mostly covered county municipal government issues. Before making the switch to radio, Ashley covered Illinois government for The Associated Press in Springfield, Illinois, and neighborhood goings-on at a weekly newspaper in a Chicago suburb. Ashley is a Chicago native (yes, the city not the suburbs). She has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

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