Minority drivers more likely to be searched by Columbia police

Friday, April 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
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COLUMBIA — Black and Hispanic drivers were more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched following a traffic stop by Columbia police officers in 2008, according to data released by the department Thursday.

Black drivers accounted for 23 percent of traffic stops but nearly half of the total number of searches by police last year. White drivers accounted for 72 percent of stops and 47 percent of searches.


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Of black drivers who were stopped, 19 percent were searched. For Hispanic drivers who were stopped,  13 percent  were searched compared to 5.7 percent of white drivers searched during stops, the report states.

White drivers were arrested in 16.5 percent of searches and black drivers were arrested in 21 percent of searches, compared to 3 percent of Hispanic drivers arrested during searches.

The statistics are consistent with traffic stop data from 2006 and 2007 that show minority drivers in Columbia are searched at higher rates than white drivers. Black drivers were searched in 21 percent of stops in 2006 and 20 percent of stops in 2007. Hispanic drivers were searched in 14.4 percent of 2006 stops and 20 percent of 2007 stops. In comparison, white drivers were searched in only 7 percent of 2006 stops and 5.7 percent of 2007 stops.

According to U.S. Census data, blacks make up less than 11 percent of Columbia's population.

Columbia Police Capt. Tom Dresner, who prepared the report that was released to the public and who was acting chief when the report was sent to the attorney general, said: “I’m never satisfied with the results ... We don’t want cops out there stopping blacks because they’re black.”

But in the report, Dresner notes that the number of blacks arrested after the traffic stops and searches shows that officers had probable cause for the stops and were not profiling.

As for the location of the stops, Dresner said police resources are committed to areas of higher crime.

Citizen Oversight Committee member David Smith said simply reporting the traffic stop statistics does nothing if the Police Department does not acknowledge that the numbers show a racial disparity.

“The whole point of the data is to hold the department accountable," Smith said. "If the numbers come out and the department doesn’t acknowledge the problem, the data doesn’t serve its purpose.”

Smith said while he appreciates the improved internal review accomplished by the department's Professional Standards Unit, the traffic stop statistics show there are still problems in how the police conduct searches. Smith is representing former Missouri basketball player Willie Smith, who alleged that he was mistreated by police responding to a burglary alarm.

Dan Viets, president of the Mid-Missouri ACLU, said higher search and arrest rates of minorities are the result of targeted policing and are not random.

“If you put more police officers in black neighborhoods, then you’re bound to catch more black people breaking the law,” Viets said.

Nearly a third of all searches and arrests from stops occurred in the First Ward. This was the first year in which data on the location of stops was included by the department.

The report arrived a week after members of the Police Department, including new Chief Kenneth Burton, met with the Citizen Oversight Committee to discuss and rewrite the first draft of an ordinance that will create an external board to oversee the department’s review process.

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peggy king April 10, 2009 | 8:39 a.m.

This is all just absurd....Since when did raw data ever create a "causal" link? There are obvious, very good reasons why the data is as it is. And I'm not talking race. Let's see some cold research on these numbers, taking into consideration the percentage of crime done by blacks, the types of crimes people of color do as opposed to types of crimes whites do, varying attitudes among the population to being stopped by the police for ANY reason which may escalate an otherwise benign situation. Let's see someone analyze these statistics WITHOUT the obvious bias of folks like Viets. I'd like to see those results. People compelled to yell RACISTS based on these statistics are not improving the situation. Racisim is not the problem here - SOLVE THE PROBLEM!

(Report Comment)
Jonanne Curtis April 10, 2009 | 10:58 p.m.

I can see it both ways. I'm an african american woman and I was stopped by a columbia police officer and told that I ran a stop sign. I drive a car that looks fit for the younger kids. I was profiled because of the kind of car that I drive and the fact that it has a tv in it. The officer looked pretty surprised when he seen an older woman driving the car and not one of these young boys. I did not run a stop sign and he knew that and that's why he let me go!! As far as the type of crimes committed by black's vs the types committed by white, does seem to have some truth to it. For instance, the feds are in town doing surveillance on the people that will be picked up on part 2 of the big indictment. I spot them all of the time driving those big fancy suv's tinted down so dark that you can't see in the window's at all. If we had window's that dark we would be pulled over by the Highway Patrol. I noticed that they wear baseball caps pulled down and sunglasses so dark you will never see their eyes. They are using public work trucks, cadillac escalades, quite a few chevrolet pickup trucks (red, grey, dark blue white and black). The women drive the smaller suv's and cars and they even wear the dark sunglasses. They are wiretapping cell phones and they can even listen to your conversations through your cable tv boxes hooked up to your television. They take pictures of those that have the latest flat screen tv's that come with built in camera's. Some fed agents remove the car dealership symbol from the back of the vehicles. They can listen to everything you say even if you are not talking on your phone. If you don't want them listening, you better remove your battery because they will take what you say and use it against you. They go to your place of employment and retrieve all email and other files from your computer. I notice them and I take pictures. When they pick the rest up for this indictment, I bet every last person is black.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 11, 2009 | 3:42 a.m.

Ms. Ratliff and Dan Viets fail to realize that if young black males would stop committing crimes and looking the part of street gangsters,gang bangers and thugs they would probably not be profiled as such and not be stopped unless they really looked suspicious.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 11, 2009 | 12:14 p.m.

Concerning the vehicles checked, how many are single driver occupied vehicles, how many are cars crammed with multiple passengers?
Of those arrested, how many live at or frequently visit Section 8 rental properties?
Of those arrested, how many have addresses which are outside of Columbia?

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