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Columbia police, community members discuss reducing racial bias

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | 7:21 p.m. CDT; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 22, 2011

COLUMBIA — Community and public safety representatives met Tuesday at the Daniel Boone City Building to discuss reducing racial bias in the Columbia Police Department.

Don Love, chapter chair of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, presented information to the Columbia Racial Profiling Coalition showing that black drivers in Columbia are more likely to be stopped by police officers than white drivers. Also, black drivers who have been pulled over are three times more likely to be asked to submit to a vehicle search, according to the 11th Annual Report on Vehicle Stops from Attorney General Chris Koster.

Members of the Columbia Racial Profiling Coalition

Donnie Warren, CoMo Citizens

Erica Warren, American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri

Noor Azizan-Gardner, Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative

Ken Burton, Columbia Police Department

Carmen Williams, Columbia Human Rights Commission

Mary Ratliff, NAACP

Dan Viets, Missouri Civil Rights Association

Valerie Shaw, NAACP

Jerry East, Columbia police data analyst

Steve Monticelli, Columbia police deputy chief

Negar Rezvani, Department of Public Health and Human Services



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The report shows this racial bias is a statewide trend.

Police Chief Ken Burton said he didn’t realize the number was so high.

“The Columbia Police Department stops African-American drivers three times more than we do white guys,” Burton said. “That strikes me right in the heart."

"We need to find out" why that happens, Burton said.

The coalition was made up of representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, Missouri Association for Social Welfare, Chancellor's Diversity Initiative, Columbia Human Rights Commission, Columbia police, CoMo Citizens, Missouri Civil Liberties Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

They agreed officers of the Police Department should take on new training with Kansas City Police Department officers Jack Colwell and Chip Huth, who created the Unleashing Respect Project. This program helps officers control biases by promoting unconditional respect for the community.

“When officers suspect everyone they see, or members of a specific race, of being criminal, they lose community cooperation,” Love said.

The Columbia Police Department already has training programs to reduce racial bias, but the programs don't address internal biases that may influence people's decisions, Burton said.

“I need to mold the police department to what the community expects," Burton said. "So I think this kind of dialogue is a better direction of where the citizen and the police department should go.”

According to the attorney general's report, the department improved from 2009 to 2010. The disparity index of vehicle stops for black drivers decreased from 2.09 to 2.02, while the disparity for Hispanic drivers decreased from 0.57 to 0.48.

Jerry East, crime analyst for the Police Department, will conduct a more in-depth look at the report and explore the steps police officers in Columbia should take, Burton said. East will present his analysis of racial profiling data to the coalition. 

Burton said the officers' actions reflect the ways they were raised and opinions developed throughout their lives, not intentional biases.

"If we don’t acknowledge they have (biases), they don’t realize they have them,” Burton said.

The Police Department follow-up meeting will be held Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Boone Building.


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Comments

Bill Fisher September 23, 2011 | 4:00 a.m.

Since as far back as I can remember, if you see a single cop car behind a stopped vehicle, the driver is white or Asian. If there are two cop cars involved, even in the simplest of stops--like speeding or failure to use a turn signal--it's a black person, every single time. I point it out to my wife anytime I see two cop cars pulling somebody over, "Hey, $10 says the driver is black." I haven't been wrong yet.

I don't think most citizens of Columbia are racist, but it's pretty obvious the police force is.

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt September 23, 2011 | 8:13 a.m.

It isn't just the police dept that is racist, racism is in the fabric of our culture. It doesn't matter where you look, unequal outcomes everywhere.

It is great to see this dialogue is underway and I hope an active agenda to eliminate racism in the community emerges as a priority. Unleashing Respect seems like a great program and I hope police officers take the approach seriously. I have had very very few positive interactions with police officers. Coming from poverty, the police didn't serve and protect, they patrolled and oppressed. I know there are officers who want to do good things, but they have a lot of work to do to build trust with me and the rest of the community.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 11, 2011 | 4:07 p.m.

("Police Chief Ken Burton said he didn’t realize the number was so high.

“The Columbia Police Department stops African-American drivers three times more than we do white guys,” Burton said. “That strikes me right in the heart."

"We need to find out" why that happens, Burton said.")

Finding out why there's a disparity is a good thing.

(“When officers suspect everyone they see, or members of a specific race, of being criminal, they lose community cooperation,” Love said.")

Implying that this solely explains the disparity is unfair to those who patrol to serve and protect.

(Report Comment)

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