COLUMBIA — Certain ethnic groups are more likely to be pulled over by the police and much more likely to be searched, according to the statistics of a Columbia Police Department annual report to the Missouri Attorney General on Friday.
The figures in the report showed the Columbia Police Department stopped 15,734 cars in 2007. Based on 2006 U.S. Census figures, the stops show that of those pulled over in 2007, 6 percent were Asian, 14 percent were white, and 43 percent were black or Hispanic, although the numbers could include people stopped multiple times.
Of the 11,273 whites stopped, 5.7 percent were searched. Of 3,724 blacks stopped, police searched 19.8 percent. Overall, 1 percent of whites stopped were arrested, and 4 percent of blacks stopped were arrested. Among the populations sizes of Columbia’s ethnic groups whites make up 75,245, blacks 8,595, Hispanics 3,076 and Asians 5,081. Columbia’s population is 94,428, according to the 2006 census.
Hispanics were stopped 311 times, and 19.8 percent were searched, with 5 percent of stops resulting in an arrest.
And though there are nearly 2,000 more Asians in Columbia than Hispanics, only 329 were pulled over, 4 percent were searched, and none were arrested.
Columbia police Chief Randy Boehm said the numbers do not reflect discrimination among police officers.
“Our numbers have been pretty consistent every year since 2000, since we’ve collected this data,” Boehm said.
Boehm thinks the discrepancy between the stops, searches and arrests of blacks, Hispanics and whites has everything to do with the dispersion of police. More stops occur in the central city because the area is “comparatively heavily staffed” in comparison to the rest of the city in response to more service calls. Most of the residents in the central city are black.
“If we have more cops there, we are going to have a higher percentage (stopped),” Boehm said.
In addition, the number of stops made overall increased by 1,131 this year, in part, Boehm said, because he has been encouraging his officers to keep busy between service calls, so they are making more stops.
“There are certainly some in the community who believe racial profiling occurs ... but I will tell you that I do not believe racial profiling happens in the Columbia Police Department.”
He said officers are regularly trained to be considerate of diversity and legal concerns regarding stops, and the first line supervisors in the department, those who review each report, are “very good” about carefully scrutinizing each filing.
The department takes complaints by residents seriously, Boehm said. He added that the department did not receive a single complaint by a citizen alleging they were stopped as a result of their race or gender last year.
Local lawyer Dan Viets disagrees about the department’s vigilance against profiling, and said the lack of community response does not equate with satisfaction with the police work.
“What that reflects is the total lack of faith that the community has in the complaint process,” said Viets, a general counsel to the Mid-Missouri American Civil Liberties Union.
Viets said that the number of searches conducted among the various groups makes such profiling apparent.
“I think that’s the key there, the numbers (of black people) that were searched. I can’t imagine any justification for that,” Viets said.
As a lawyer, he has two main recommendations for people stopped by police: Do not give permission to search your car and ask for an attorney.
“People get hung up on whether their rights are read to them and don’t think about what those rights are,” Viets said. “Use your Miranda rights.”