COLUMBIA – Blacks and Hispanics who were pulled over during traffic stops in 2008 were more than twice as likely to be searched and arrested by Boone County Sheriff's deputies than whites were, according to data released by the department Friday.
In 2008, deputies arrested 13.9 percent of black drivers and 12.5 percent of Hispanic drivers compared to 6.2 percent of white drivers who were pulled over. These numbers were included in the data the Sheriff's Department must provide to the Missouri Attorney General under state law.
Also, the number of blacks and Hispanics searched during traffic stops was higher when compared to whites. Deputies searched 16.67 of Hispanic drivers and 18.56 percent of black drivers, while only 8.75 percent of white drivers were searched.
Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey said the disparity in percentage of stops, searches and arrests by race is the result of a proactive law enforcement approach and not a problem with racial profiling. Patrols are concentrated in areas where a high volume of calls and drug intelligence is received and as a result a higher percentage of cars are pulled over in those areas. He said there is a higher number of African-Americans living in those areas and as a result, produces a greater percentage of African-Americans being stopped.
“The goal is not to see how many African-Americans we can arrest," Carey said. "The goal is to clean up the problems we have in the subdivisions and areas we’re patrolling.”
While black and Hispanics make up about 15 percent of Boone County's population, according to 2007 Missouri Census data, they made up 20 percent of the traffic stops, 35.6 percent of the total searches and about 37 percent of the total arrests.
"It's not like an act of nature, these things don’t happen by chance," said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dan Viets. "Officers make a conscious decision to conduct a search. It's ridiculous to say it's beyond their control; it's totally within their control."
This year's data is consistent with reports from years past which have consistently shown that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched and arrested by sheriff's deputies.
In the 2007 report, deputies searched 16 percent of black drivers and 14 percent of Hispanic drivers compared to 9 percent of white drivers. Similarly, 13.5 percent of black drivers pulled over were arrested and 10 percent of Hispanic drivers pulled over were arrested. In contrast, 6.6 percent of white driver's pulled over were arrested.
"At 3 o'clock in the morning you don’t know if the driver is black, blue, green, whatever," Carey said. "People want to look at the percentages and not our proactive approach."
Citizen Oversight Committee member David Tyson Smith said the data points to possible racial profiling by the department and clearly documents that groups of people are being treated differently by the department. The way to begin addressing the racial disparity shown in the data is for the Sheriff's Department to continue giving sensitivity training to its members and re-evaluate how it conducts traffic stops and searches, he said.
"I think transparency is only the first step," Smith said. "Willing to acknowledge the problem and fixing it is the next. We really haven’t gotten very far."
Carey expects the trend in increased stops to continue.
"If we talked in 2009 we’re going to talk about how the total number of traffic stops have increased," Carey said. "Because of our approach to law enforcement we are going to have a greater number of stops. Stops on Caucasians will increase and stops on African-Americans will increase."
The data not only showed a racial disparity but a gender and age as well. Sixty percent of drivers stopped were male while 39.8 percent were female. Of the 4,899 total stops, 2,576, or 52.9 percent, were under the age of 30.
"The saddest part is that the problem is not being acknowledged," Smith said. "It does no good to have the data on the table if the department doesn’t do anything to address the problem."