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Black Drivers In Missouri Far More Likely To Be Stopped By Police Than White Drivers

(via Flickr/davidsonscott15)

Missouri traffic stops declined significantly in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic as stay-at-home orders were in effect. But a report prepared by Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office shows African American drivers were 71% more likely to be pulled over by Missouri police officers last year than white drivers.

The2020 Vehicle Stops Report collected traffic stop data from 590 law enforcement agencies in Missouri. The report aims to examine vehicular stops and eliminate bias.

The attorney general’s office started issuing the annual report in 2000. Last year, law enforcement agencies in Missouri stopped more than 1.1 million drivers, down from more than 1.5 million in 2019.

“Even though the numbers were down from the prior year, they demonstrate that even during a pandemic in which travel decreased statewide, Black and brown drivers had no relief from discriminatory practices in these stops,” said Luz Maria Henriquez, executive director of the ACLU.

The report also found that Black drivers are about 25% more likely to be arrested than white drivers and that police searched 8.5% of Black drivers they stopped, compared with 8.3% of white drivers they stopped. Police searched 7.6% of Latino drivers stopped.

The data include race, the number of stops, the rate at which drivers are searched, arrest rates and other information.

St. Louis police stopped about 19,600 Black drivers and about 9,600 white drivers. In St. Louis County, police stopped about 9,500 Black drivers and about 17,700 white drivers.

Twenty-two agencies reported no traffic stops in their jurisdictions in 2020. But agencies that did not report any findings often contract out their vehicle stops to other police forces.

Thirty-three agencies, including St. Louis County’s Des Peres Police Department, did not submit data by the deadline, but the agencies' data is included in the report.

In 2020, the attorney general’s office added categories for the residential ZIP code of the drivers stopped and the reasons officers issued citations or warnings.

Schmitt said in a statement that his office seeks to balance the rights of Missouri citizens with law enforcement.

The data from the report is concerning, given that Black drivers are more likely to be issued citations than white drivers, said Lee Slocum, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“I think this is something to think about because these citations can have downstream consequences for people,” Slocum said.

She said the report shows that racial disparities in policing persist.

“Every year that Missouri fails to address the problem of racial profiling by law enforcement is yet another year where we are not building trust between law enforcement and communities of color,” Henriquez said. “And law enforcement needs to be able to build that trust in order to do their job effectively.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio

Andrea Henderson joined St. Louis Public Radio in March 2019, where she covers race, identity and culture as part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America. Andrea comes to St. Louis Public Radio from NPR, where she reported for the race and culture podcast Code Switch and produced pieces for All Things Considered. Andrea’s passion for storytelling began at a weekly newspaper in her hometown of Houston, Texas, where she covered a wide variety of stories including hurricanes, transportation and Barack Obama’s 2009 Presidential Inauguration. Her art appreciation allowed her to cover arts and culture for the Houston African-American business publication, Empower Magazine. She also covered the arts for Syracuse’s Post-Standard and The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.