JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A recent report from the Attorney General’s Office showing an extremely high disparity between black and white drivers who are pulled over in Missouri doesn’t necessarily paint the full picture, the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association has said.
The statewide statistics in the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report released late last month showed black motorists were stopped at a rate 76 percent greater than expected based on the portion of the population who are at least 16 years old. And when compared to white motorists, black drivers were 91 percent more likely to be stopped by police — the highest disparity level since at least 2000, when the annual reports began.
Lawmakers and activists immediately called for swift action in the wake of the report. But the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association pushed back Monday, saying use of census data in the report is “inappropriate” and doesn’t “serve as an effective data analysis benchmark or baseline.”
“It is not difficult to measure whether there is disparity between racial/ethnic groups in terms of stops made by police; census benchmarking does that well,” Kevin Merritt, executive director of the association, said in a statement. “The difficulty comes in identifying the causes for disparity. Race alone is not dispositive of why the stop was made; neither is a disparity index.”
“Race alone is not dispositive of why the stop was made; neither is a disparity index.”
The report expanded this year to include a breakdown of data based on whether the motorist lived in the jurisdiction where he or she was stopped. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he plans to add more changes to the report during his tenure for “clarification and context in certain questions and modernizing the data collection infrastructure for more accurate and insightful data.”
Merritt wants to see that expansion include data related to whether the officer knew the race of an individual before the stop was made.
“While legislators and special interest groups push only for collecting additional data and restrictions on officers, our plea to them is not to stop collecting data, but rather to work toward solutions for the analysis of data based on valid benchmarks,” Merritt said.
“There is much more to this issue than raw data of stops,” he continued. “Those who support our law enforcement officers should not blindly conclude bias exists without being part of the solution.”
“We appreciate any and all feedback on the Vehicle Stops Report as we are continuously working to improve the data collection and accuracy,” Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in a statement to The Missouri Times. “With the 2020 Census approaching, we’re looking into best ways to integrate the most accurate data possible moving forward. Additionally, we hope the proposed changes to this year’s vehicle stops report will provide the most accurate and insightful analysis of stops in Missouri since the report’s inception in 2000.”
Before the General Assembly convenes next year, the Special Committee on Criminal Justice plans to hold public hearings in Kansas City and St. Louis on issues such as racial profiling and civil asset forfeiture — announcing the plans on the heels of the Vehicle Stops Report.
Aside from the disparity in stops, the 2018 report also found the statewide search rate for black and Hispanic drivers was greater than white individuals (black: 8.93; Hispanic: 8.44; white: 6.04) in 2018, but the contraband hit rate was higher among white drivers (black: 33.82; Hispanic: 29.15; white: 35.68). Arrest rates were also higher for black and Hispanic people (black: 6.37; Hispanic: 6.26; white: 4.25).
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.