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.
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
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.