JEFFERSON CITY — According to a new report, black motorists are significantly more likely than other drivers to be stopped by Missouri law enforcement officers — a disparity that has grown greater during the past decade.
An annual demographic report on Missouri traffic stops released Monday shows that black drivers were 67 percent more likely than white or Hispanic drivers to be stopped in 2008.
That's just 1 percentage point higher than the previous year. But since Missouri became the first state to publish such a report in 2001, the racial disparity in traffic stops between blacks and whites has more than doubled.
"Absolutely, I think racial profiling is real," said Attorney General Chris Koster, whose office compiled the report on more than 1.6 million traffic stops made by 639 law enforcement agencies.
"But this report is not intended as a detailed explanation for what is occurring in any particular law enforcement agency," Koster added, "but as a catalyst for honest and informed discussion at the local levels."
The Missouri state conference of the NAACP plans to meet Saturday to begin discussing what actions to take, said President Mary Ratliff. One possibility, she said, would be pursuing state legislation that would penalize municipalities that continue to receive bad reports.
"It's unacceptable, just unacceptable," Ratliff said. "It can't be just the report coming out every year and us looking at it and saying it doesn't look any better. Something has to change."
The annual report compares the proportion of traffic stops for drivers of a particular race with their proportion of the estimated state and local population.
Koster said more analysis probably would be necessary before using the report as a basis for penalties. The figures for some areas could be skewed, for example, if they have interstate highways that bring in travelers at a different racial proportion than the local population.
The attorney general said the figures are most useful when comparing one local law enforcement agency with another in the same area, or when comparing changes from year to year.
Statewide, white and Hispanic drivers both were stopped at the same rate last year, which was slightly below their proportion of the population age 16 and older in Missouri. Asian drivers and people of mixed or unknown races were stopped at barely half the rate that would have been expected based on their slim portions of Missouri's population, according to the report.
But black drivers were stopped at 1.59 times the rate of their proportionate population. When compared with the 0.95 rate for white and Hispanic motorists, the report said black drivers were 67 percent more likely to be stopped in 2008.
When Missouri issued its first such report on June 1, 2001, it showed that black motorists were stopped at a rate 30 percent higher than white drivers during a roughly four-month period in 2000.
Koster said this year's report "continues a disturbing trend for African-American drivers in Missouri," whose disparity indexes for traffic stops have increased each of the past four years.
The report shows that black motorists who were stopped also were 1.67 times more likely to be searched than white motorists.
Although whites and Hispanics were stopped at the same rate, Hispanic motorists were more than twice as likely to be searched by police as whites, the report found.
But the report shows that searches of Hispanic and black drivers were, on average, less likely than searches of white motorists to result in police finding contraband.
Although stopped less frequently, Hispanic drivers were more likely to be arrested than black drivers. White drivers were arrested less frequently than both blacks and Hispanics.