Racial Disparities in Missouri Traffic Stops at All-Time High


A new report reveals that racial disparities in traffic stops by Missouri police officers escalated to an unprecedented high in 2014.

In the first such report since the August 9 shooting death of Black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster’s office disclosed that police were 75 percent more likely to stop Black drivers than white drivers last year, and 73 percent more likely to search Black drivers.

Put differently, African Americans are 1.75 times more likely to be stopped and 1.73 times more likely to be searched than whites. Hispanics are 1.90 times more likely than whites to be searched.

Although African Americans were more likely to be stopped and searched by police, they were less likely to be found with contraband than whites. Nearly 27 percent of whites were found to possess something illegal, compared with 21 percent of African Americans and 19.5 percent of Hispanics.

African Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop. Close to 8 percent of Black motorists and 8.2 percent of Hispanics stopped are arrested, compared to 4 percent of whites.

The data show the largest disparity in stops between Black and white drivers since Missouri lawmakers required the attorney general’s office to report on traffic stops in 2000. Only a handful of states mandate collection of traffic stop data, and it is rarely analyzed for racial disparities. Making more data available to the public is one way that police can create a culture of transparency and accountability, one of several critical steps recommended earlier this year by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Racially disproportionate traffic stops, searches, and arrests stem from the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that have unfairly made people of color, especially young Black men, targets of police aggression and violence.