State releases report on racial profiling

Friday, May 28, 2004

Grades have come out for local law enforcement agencies, and the results indicate a problem with racial profiling in the state of Missouri. That includes some area police and sheriff's departments.

On Thursday, state Attorney General Jay Nixon's office released the 2003 report on traffic stops in Missouri. The report contains data on 1,360,814 traffic stops made by over 600 city and county law enforcement agencies statewide. The report provides information on racial profiling for each agency.

When compared with white drivers, blacks were 40 percent more likely to get pulled over in 2003, the same number that the 2002 report showed.

"I think that puts cement around the data," Nixon said. "It also shows that there continue to be issues to be dealt with."

Another issue that the report brings to the forefront is the fact that it shows that in 2003, blacks were 80 percent more likely to be searched than whites once pulled over in Missouri.

The report is broken down into four summary indicators: Disparity index, search rate, contraband hit rate and arrest rate. The primary of these is the disparity index.

The disparity index takes the proportion of stops and divides it by the proportion of population for racial groups. According to the attorney general's report, a disparity index of one represents no disparity, an index below one indicates under-representation and a value over one indicates over-representation. The state average disparity index for blacks was 1.36. Of seven area agencies, only Scott and Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's offices came in at or below this average.

However, in terms of the secondary indicator -- search rate -- Scott and Cape Girardeau counties were actually well above the state average. Search rate is calculated by taking the number of searches divided by the number of stops for each race. The percentage is then multiplied by 100.

Nixon's office warns that comparing the search rate between races can be tricky, because searches may not end in an arrest. Furthermore, Capt. Carl Kinnison with the Cape Girardeau Police Department said that searches can only be conducted with the driver's consent or if the officer has probable cause. The report also adds that searches are almost always carried out when there is an outstanding warrant.

Of the other five local agencies that came in above the state average in disparity of traffic stops of blacks, four did so while posting numbers higher than in 2002. The agency that actually improved in this category, Perry County Sheriff's Department, posted the highest score in the area with a 28.23, down from 32.65 in 2002. But that number was based on 71 blacks who were pulled over in 2003, compared with 1,085 whites.

Representatives at the Perry County Sheriff's Department would not comment, and Sheriff Gary Schaaf was unavailable for comment.

For the most part, the Cape Girardeau Police Department stayed close to the statewide average, although its disparity indexes for blacks, Hispanics and Asians all rose from 2002.

Police Sgt. Rick Schmidt of Cape Girardeau said he understands why racial profiling reports are tracked and why the state wants them, but he also understands that you can make numbers say what you want them to. He also said there are a lot of variables in compiling this data, especially when considering that the information comes from each department itself.

Schmidt said he only has one common denominator -- if people are violating the law, he'll stop them.

"It doesn't matter if you're a man, woman, black, white, red or green," he said.

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