Racial bias data for Columbia police traffic stops inconclusive

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | 10:39 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Although data show the Columbia Police Department pulls over blacks more often than whites relative to their proportion of the population, it is still unclear whether there is bias in the police department.

In the second of a series of public meetings, the Bias-free Columbia Coalition invited the public Tuesday to learn about how the police department uses data on traffic stops to examine whether police officers exhibit bias and how to prevent it.

Jerry East, a crime analyst the police department assigned to analyze data on racial profiling, revealed some possible reasons why blacks are disproportionately stopped. However, he said that more information is necessary to determine if there is bias in the police department.

"We are convinced that we are not doing enough collection of data," East said. "When we take the extra step and go ahead and collect the extra data, we can actually identify who has a problem with bias in the workplace, and then we can help them overcome those biases."

East often referenced disparity indices, which are a measure of how often a certain group is stopped by the police relative to its proportion of the population.

East analyzed the disparity indices for different officers, finding that the indices for some were high. The information did not indicate, however, whether those officers were biased.

"A lot of the officers with a higher disparity index work in the higher majority black neighborhoods," East said. "Not all of them but a lot of them do. That's one of the things we're looking for, the people who don’t work in those areas, what's happening with them?"

East analyzed disparity indices based on different areas of Columbia, noting that they were not uniform across the city.

"The disparity index tended to go down whenever you would go into higher black populations," he said.

East offered another possible reason for the discrepancy between the number of arrests of whites and blacks — the location of emergency calls to the police.

"When you look at calls for service, they tend to follow where black people are being stopped," East said.

East said the police department aims to foster public trust.

"It’s us being transparent enough for (the community) to be able to trust us," East said. "There might be something internally that we do wrong."

A flier distributed to attendees said the Columbia Police Department "needs feedback from the public on contacts with officers in order to improve officer performance" and that the coalition will try using churches and civic groups to encourage feedback. 

The coalition includes representatives of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, CoMo Citizens, Columbia Human Rights Commission, Columbia Police Department, American Civil Liberties Union, Missouri Civil Liberties Association, Missouri Association for Social Welfare and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Bias-free Columbia Coalition will hold another open meeting in November about bias toward Muslims and Latinos. The coalition also plans to hold a meeting Dec. 7, when two Kansas City police officers are to present their program to help officers develop "unconditional respect" for all community members, the flier said.

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Bill Fisher October 12, 2011 | 3:50 a.m.

I doubt they pull over more blacks than whites, but it is odd how it only takes one officer to pull over a white driver, and 2-3 squad cars for a black person. If you've lived in CoMO for more than 6 months, no doubt you've seen this as well. If not, then just count patrol cars next time you see lights flashing:

1 car, white driver
2-3 cars, black driver

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield October 12, 2011 | 11:57 a.m.

"it is odd how it only takes one officer to pull over a white driver, and 2-3 squad cars for a black person."

In this and other cities, I've seen quite a variety. For example, the other day I saw two patrol cars for a search of a vehicle driven by a white male. Sometimes the stop warrants calling a supervisor.

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis October 12, 2011 | 12:12 p.m.

I have been pulled over and had three cars behind me and I'm Caucasian. I never did figure out why but hey if that's what they needed to do.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock October 13, 2011 | 8:52 a.m.

I thought CPD was instituting a policy that would limit the amount of back up cars when a person gets pulled over? It seems like that was one of the Chiefs major talking points when he took over because the Highway Patrol only uses one car.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield October 13, 2011 | 9:33 a.m.

The state troopers are Jedi, so they can handle it.

BTW, this debate is going on in other countries, too:

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 13, 2011 | 9:49 a.m.

Allan says, "...because the Highway Patrol only uses one car"

You are accurate in the outcome, but incorrect in the cause.

Highway Patrol vehicles are widely scattered. Backup takes a while....longer than most traffic stops require. You can rest assured, tho, that MSHP vehicles start shading to that direction when a stop is made.

The sheriff's department functions similarly, but those vehicles ARE closer together.

City police are the most dense and, therefore, you will see faster and larger backup.

ALL officers of ALL stripes would do it if they could, but density of vehicles makes that impossible.

(Report Comment)

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