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Columbia leaders issue response to traffic stops report

Columbia’s city council detailed its response to the state’s vehicle stop report from earlier this year.

ABC 17 News reported in June when the report revealed black drivers were pulled over at a rate three times higher than expected.

A memo written on Monday to city council members from city manager Mike Matthes and staff read, “The racial disparities in the Columbia Police Department’s vehicle stops data has been the source of concern and alarm for many members in the community In order to better understand the racial disparities in vehicle stops, City staff have studied and reviewed the data.”

Aside from analyzing data, city leaders also spoke with community groups and “participated in the NAACP’s Community Engagement on Policing, Equity and Civility to get public input on the racial disparities and learn about individuals’ personal experiences with vehicle stops.”

The findings from this work, determined the city should continue with racial justice training and rebuild a police traffic unit.

A member of one community group said this doesn’t list how much these suggestions would cost Columbia.

“To me, this is an indication that the city is not serious about implementing the actions that they do believe they are responsible for executing,” said Rachel Taylor from Race Matters, Friends.

The Columbia Police Department said there are some flaws in the data. The AG report does not take into account “outside factors or viable explanations for the racial disparity,” according to the city’s memo. That may include higher poverty rates for African-American families in Columbia than white families, which in turn may lead to cars having improperly working equipment.

Taylor said that assuming poor African-American families don’t keep up with proper driver’s licenses and equipment is itself a racist assumption.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said he supported rebuilding the police traffic unit, but said it should not be used as a way to alter the disparity numbers.

I don’t want us to think that we can do an operational strategy and start doing traffic stops all over town and the numbers look better,” Thomas said. “Because that may continue to hide a problem that’s existing.”

Thomas and others wanted the city manager’s office to post the memo in a more publicly-available way, and allow the public to comment on it.

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