JEFFERSON CITY — Black motorists remain more likely than others to be stopped by Missouri police, but that disparity has stopped growing for the first time in seven years, according to a report released Wednesday by the attorney general.
The annual report found black drivers were 69 percent more likely than white motorists to be pulled over based on their respective shares of Missouri's population, while whites were more likely to be pulled over than Hispanics.
The statistics compare the racial demographics of Missouri's driving-age population to the racial characteristics of motorists involved in the nearly 1.7 million traffic stops, 112,000 searches and 84,000 arrests made last year in the state. The report has been produced every year since 2001, when Missouri became the first state to publish a study of the racial demographics of traffic stops.
Data were collected from 630 law enforcement agencies, though 24 law enforcement agencies did not provide data for the report.
In addition to traffic stops, the attorney general's report examined vehicle searches and arrests.
Overall, law officers searched about 7 percent of the vehicles they stopped, finding contraband 22 percent of the time. Nearly 5 percent of traffic stops led to an arrest.
White motorists were less likely than black or Hispanic motorists to have their vehicles searched or be arrested. Police checked the vehicles of Hispanics in 12 percent of traffic stops, as compared to 11 percent of the time for blacks and 6 percent of the time for whites. However, searches of white motorists' vehicles were the most fruitful, yielding contraband nearly one-quarter of the time, as compared to 14 percent of the time for Hispanics and 18 percent for blacks.
Black and Hispanic motorists also were about two times more likely than whites to be arrested.
The traffic stops report is based on the various racial groups' share of Missouri's population, so it does not factor in the effects of travel. For example, law enforcement officers say one reason for apparent racial disparities is that some cities with a largely white population can have significant traffic from minority workers, visitors and shoppers — particularly cities that are located along highways.
Attorney General Chris Koster said that the report was not conclusive evidence of racial profiling but that the disproportionate rate at which black drivers were involved in traffic stops was concerning. He noted that in 2000, black drivers were 30 percent more likely than white drivers to be pulled over. That disparity figure was 70 percent in 2009 and declined slightly to 69 percent in 2010.
Koster said the state's law enforcement agencies should continue reviewing their traffic stops and searches and communicating with the public.
"One of the best uses of these reports is as a springboard for dialogue and communication between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve," Koster said.