Don Love, board member of the Mid-Missouri Civil Liberties Association, emphasized the importance of understanding data about racial disparities in traffic stops at a talk Monday night.
Love presented and explained data from vehicle stop reports, a topic he has been studying for the last 10 years, to about a dozen people at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office releases an annual report on vehicle stops based on data complied from police departments around the state. This data must include details from all traffic stops made in Missouri, including a driver’s race.
“Without the data, we’re just left pointing the finger at each other with our shared suspicions,” Love said. “If you look at the data, you’ve got something factual to understand better what’s going on.”
He said the data help people understand what sorts of questions need to be asked to create better policies.
Data collected from traffic stops can show what racial disparities exist in certain areas, which can also show whether racial discrimination is taking place.
Love’s talk focused on data collected from Florissant, a St. Louis suburb. It found that in 2018, African Americans made up roughly 78% of stops in that area, despite making up only 24% of the population.
“Black people are stopped at a rate 3.9 times the rate one would expect based just on their group proportion of drivers, as estimated by census data,” Love said.
He also added that in Florissant, white drivers are stopped at a rate less than one-third of what one would expect, based on population size. Black drivers are stopped at a rate almost 11 times higher than white drivers, according to the data Love presented.
“How could that be? That’s the sort of thing that gives a real shock,” Love said. “How would that be possible? Well, there it is.”
Love also briefly touched on racial disparity in traffic stops in Columbia. While Columbia has had problems with persistent racial disparity at traffic stops, this rate declined slightly in 2018, according to previous Missourian reporting.
“We want our officers to have discretion and use it well,” Love said. “The whole challenge here is to get ourselves to the point where the officers have skills that make them deserve trust and that we trust the skills they have to the point that we respect their authority. We may never have been at that point in the past, especially where race is concerned, but that’s what we need to do now.”
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