In a police beat where Black people make up an estimated 3% of the population, a recent MU study found that Black drivers account for over a quarter of the traffic stops downtown.

The study, released Monday, was commissioned by Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones and used data collected from 2017 to 2019.

A collection of five researchers from four MU academic areas examined the racial disparity in traffic stops across all of the established Columbia Police Department beats.

The study also found that Black drivers are more often stopped than white drivers across Columbia, although the number of stops varies widely from beat to beat.

Patrol areas that include East Campus and parts of downtown with overwhelming white populations showed the highest disparities.

The report also found stops with Black drivers were more likely to result in an arrest or search.

Illegal items were found at a similar frequency among all drivers, although the report found Black drivers are about twice as likely to have their vehicle searched based on the officer smelling alcohol or suspecting drug use.

Nine recommendations for the Columbia Police Department were included in the report, including the suggestion that specific data analyses should be conducted on a more regular basis. The researchers recommended doing so on either an annual or quarterly basis.

The MU report comes after the Vehicle Stop Committee sent its own suggestions to Jones in March. Those recommendations, which were later adopted by the department, advocated for additional checkoffs for traffic stops.

Don Love, a member of the committee, said the checkoffs would ask officers to account for factors such as the reason for the stop and the kind of moving violation which occurred.

The goal of collecting this information is to help identify disparities and possible instances of discrimination, Love said in an earlier Missourian story.

It can be a challenge to align the new checkoffs with the department’s existing record system, Jones said in a June interview with the Missourian. The chief said he is dedicated to ensuring all citizens are treated fairly but there is only so much he can do in his role.

Any interaction with law enforcement is “the culmination of other things going wrong in someone’s life,” Jones said.

  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

Recommended for you