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State releases 2015 traffic stop racial data

While black drivers statewide still face a higher representation of those pulled over compared to the driving population, the measurement fell slightly in 2015.

The Attorney General’s Office released traffic stop data for last year, which breaks down the number of stops, searches and arrests by the race of the person pulled over. One key statistic the state shows is the “racial disparity index,” which shows how often law enforcement pulled over a particular race compared to people old enough to drive in that category. In 2015, Black drivers faced an above-expected rate of being pulled over. At more than ten percent of the state’s driving population, African-American drivers made up 17-percent of those pulled over – making a racial disparity index of 1.61.

Compared to the White driver population, the attorney general’s office surmised a Black driver was 69 percent more likely to be pulled over than a White driver.

The Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department both saw record racial disparity index for African-Americans in 2015 – CPD with 2.97 and BCSD with 3.04.

Similar to Missouri, the Columbia Black driving population hovers around ten percent. In 2015, 29 percent of traffic stops involved Black drivers (3,348 total stops). While the total amount of those pulled over dropped last year, Columbia’s disparity index shows that Black drivers were three times more likely to get pulled over than White drivers.

Columbia police public information officer Latisha Stroer said the index can be misleading. Since total traffic stops fell by more than 5,000 in 2015, the index went up due to fewer stops.

“The Traffic Unit had a low number throughout 2015,” Stroer told ABC 17 News. “They were down to two officers in the Traffic Unit and then we disbanded the traffic unit towards the end of that year.”

CPD’s Traffic Unit worked exclusively on enforcement and serious or fatal crashes during its operation. ABC 17 News broke the story when the department disbanded it in exchange for its new Community Outreach Unit.

White drivers faced a .82 index, Hispanic drivers a .52, Asian drivers a .47, and Native Americans a .36.

Stroer said the department further maps its stops to view alongside a map of its calls for service in a year. The map for 2014 shows that calls for service primarily for central city, the Highway 63 and Interstate 70 Connector and the west COlumbia shopping centers drew the biggest calls, and also showed the most prevalent spots for traffic stops. The mapping breaks down by time of day and race.

“It didn’t matter if it was a white driver or a black driver, it was where the calls for service was dictating where our officers to respond to,” Stroer said.

Sergeant Brian Leer of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said the index can also be skewed due to the area’s “transient population.” Deputies manage traffic on busy highways and Interstate 70, meaning those pulled over by deputies often come from different parts of the state and country. The attorney general’s summary of the traffic stop report even notes such a factor.

“It should be remembered that the disparity index is a gauge of the likelihood drivers of a given race or ethnic group are stopped based on their proportion of the residential population 16 and older, not on the population of motorists on the state’s streets, roads and highways,” it reads. “A group’s share of the residential population 16 and older may or may not be similar to its proportion of drivers in the reporting area, and when there is a large discrepancy between the two numbers, the disparity index will be skewed.”

Sgt. Leer also said the department reviews individual deputies on their traffic stops to see if racial profiling is an issue. The department as a whole pulled over less people in 2015 than 2014, with Leer citing vacancies in the department’s traffic unit.

Jefferson City police pulled over 3,000 more people in 2015 than in 2014. Its racial disparity index hovered around the state average for all races.

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