JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last year saw a significant reduction in vehicle stops across the state, according to the Attorney General’s Office’s 2020 Vehicle Stops Report.
There were 24 percent fewer stops in 2020 compared to 2019 — decreasing the stop rate per person from 32 in 2019 to 23.8 last year and totaling about 1.16 million stops overall in 2020. The report noted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these rates; stay-at-home orders and business closures decreased the number of drivers on the road in the spring, and law enforcement sought to reduce face-to-face contact to mitigate the spread.
There was also a significant decrease in stops by race: Black motorists were stopped at a rate of 38.7 — a sizable drop from the 57 reported in 2019. (The report calculates the rate by dividing the number of stops by the total population and multiplying that number by 100.) Stops among white drivers also fell from 29.6 to 22.6 in 2020 while the search rate increased from 6.7 to 8. Search rates for Black drivers decreased by less than 1 point, falling to 8.5.
Overall arrest rates also dropped by 40 percent for the year. Rates for the Black population decreased from 6.2 to 4.6 compared to 2019 while white motorists saw a decrease of less than 1 percent.
The disparity index is a measure of a population’s stop rates compared to the group’s number of legal aged drivers. An index of 1 means the groups is equally represented in traffic stops and population, while a value over 1 signifies an overrepresentation of the group compared to its total population. In 2020, white motorists were stopped at a rate of .95 while Black motorists were stopped at a value of 1.4 on the index. The disparity index for Black drivers dropped from 1.79 last year, the first decrease since 2014, according to the report.
Other populations also saw values under 1: Hispanic drivers were indexed at .73, Native Americans at .37, and Asian motorists were at .44 on the index.
The report compiled data from 590 law enforcement agencies across the state, summarizing information on stops, arrest rates, and other data. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the analysis provided citizens and law enforcement with vital information.
“The Attorney General’s Office is tasked with aggregating and reporting the data from all vehicle stops in the state of Missouri each year. This report can help law enforcement and other agencies identify potential issues or areas for improvement,” Schmitt said. “With the changes that we have been working to implement, it’s my hope that this report will continue to improve and ensure that Missourians are receiving the best possible protection from our state’s law enforcement.”
The disparity between white and Black vehicle stops has drawn the attention of the legislature and other groups in the past: The 2018 report saw the highest level disparity yet, leading lawmakers to call for change. Last year, the Coalition for Fair Policing convened to call for a legislative change to the way stops are handled in the state.
This year’s report included a series of changes meant to add further context to the data, requiring additional information on the officer conducting the stop and the reasoning behind citations. Schmitt said next year’s report would reflect the full breadth of the changes.
The report compiled data from 97 percent of the state’s law enforcement. There were 33 agencies that did not comply with the state’s deadline and another 22 small departments reported no stops for the year.
The Attorney General’s Office began filing these reports after 2000 in response to concerns raised by citizens and lawmakers over alleged bias.