JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Although the disparity narrowed slightly from previous years, black motorists were 38 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped by Missouri law enforcement officers last year.
The annual racial profiling report released Tuesday by Attorney General Jay Nixon also showed that black drivers who got stopped were 71 percent more likely to be searched than white drivers who were stopped by police.
Hispanics were slightly more likely than whites to be stopped by law enforcement officers, but almost twice as likely to be searched, Nixon said.
The 2004 report is the fifth since Missouri began tracking the demographics of traffic stops under a state law that took effect in August 2000.
The continued pattern of racial disparity in traffic stops shows that Missouri has a problem, said the Rev. Gill Ford, of St. Louis, director of a 10-state region of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The reality is that although Missouri is generating a report statewide, there is nothing being done really to address the problem of racial profiling," Ford said.
Nixon cautioned that the disparity shown by the figures does not prove police are making stops based on race.
"That being said, I urge Missouri law enforcement to continue their constructive efforts to eliminate any perceptions that traffic stops are being made solely on the basis of race, rather than for legitimate reasons," Nixon said in statement.
In both 2002 and 2003, figures showed that black motorists were 40 percent more likely to be stopped by law enforcement officers than white drivers. The 2003 report showed that black drivers were 80 percent more likely to be searched than white drivers.
Nixon said the racial disparity gap in the 2004 report, while slightly smaller for both stops and searches, shows little change from previous years.
But the change is worth noting, said Scott Decker, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who helped compile the report.
"It is a measurable and important decline, given the magnitude of stops that are made statewide," Decker said.
But the racial gap is still large, he added, "which ought to raise concern statewide, as well as for local jurisdictions."
The report is based on nearly 1.4 million traffic stops, 106,430 searches and 74,484 arrests made by 603 law enforcement agencies last year. Nixon said 70 agencies failed to submit information by their deadlines, up from 56 agencies the previous year. The state can withhold money from agencies that don't comply with the racial profiling law.
The disparity rates are based on 2000 census figures of Missourians age 16 and older -- not on the number of licensed drivers. Whites made up 85 percent of Missouri's driving-age population, compared to 10 percent blacks and 2 percent Hispanics. The data includes all traffic stops, including those made of out-of-state residents while in Missouri.
Hispanic drivers were 10 percent more likely than white motorists to be stopped by law enforcement officers last year, and 84 percent more likely to be searched, according to Nixon's report.
Of drivers who were searched, however, police found contraband on 22 percent of the white motorists, compared to 15 percent of the black drivers and 14 percent of the Hispanic drivers.
Decker said those statistics could show that the basis for the search was not as well established for the minority drivers as for the white motorists.
Ford said that if the racial disparity is to be diminished, it will take community involvement with local police forces and a statewide training effort on constitutional rights concerning searches.
Missouri has been ahead of most states in gathering data, Ford said, "but where they have fallen real short on is assessing and addressing what the data says."
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