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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A report from Missouri's attorney general shows that black drivers across the state are 91% more likely than white motorists to be pulled over by police and newly collected data shows that African-Americans are even more likely to be stopped in many communities where they live.
The Attorney General's Office for the first time last year collected data on whether people pulled over by police lived in the area or not. That's significant because law enforcement organizations for years have said that if drivers of color from out of town are pulled over as they commute through a city with a large white population that could skew a local police agency's data to make the disparity rate artificially high.
While that appears to be the case in some jurisdictions, the numbers show the disparity is sometimes actually higher when comparing arrests of only resident white and black drivers.
The Missouri NAACP in 2017 issued a travel advisory warning people to be careful while in Missouri because of a danger that civil rights won't be respected, citing in part the attorney general's annual report on disparities in police stops.
For example, St. Louis County police were 80% more likely to stop black drivers compared to white drivers, when analyzing the total number of police stops. But when only comparing St. Louis County drivers, data show black drivers were more than twice as likely to be pulled over.
In the Kansas City-area city of Blue Springs, which is 87% white based on 2010 census data and close to Interstate 70, black drivers in general were 275% more likely to be stopped. When isolating stops to residents, data show black drivers were nearly three times as likely to be stopped compared to white resident drivers.
"That is worrisome, because now we have a more accurate indicator of disparity because the population base is, if you will, the correct one," said Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist who analyzed the data for the attorney general's office.
The 2018 report comes nearly five years after protesters in Ferguson drew national attention to longstanding concerns about police treatment of black communities following the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old who lived in the St. Louis suburb.
Data released by Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt show that since then, reports of black drivers being pulled over at a disproportionately high rate compared to their white counterparts have only increased. Last year's statewide disparity rate between white and black drivers is the highest recorded in the almost two decades since the state first began compiling data.
In Ferguson, black drivers in 2014 were 265 percent more likely than white motorists to be pulled over. When comparing only residents, black drivers were more than three times as likely to be stopped compared to white motorists in 2018.
"For the eighteenth year in a row, the Missouri Attorney General's office has released a report that shows black communities, and people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by law enforcement," ACLU legislative and policy Director Sara Baker said in a statement. "A report is not enough. Actions must be taken."
In 2015, data show black drivers were roughly 70% more likely to be stopped by police compared to white motorists statewide. That disparity climbed to 75% in 2016 and up to 85% in 2017 .
"One has to be cautious about how you interpret that," Rosenfeld said, "because in the more recent years of course we're moving further and further away from the 2010 Census, which was used as the population base. But I don't think use of the 2010 Census alone explains that increase in disparity."
Missouri Sheriff s' Association Executive Director Kevin Merritt in a Monday statement said "law enforcement has no tolerance for racial bias in policing and in general is not opposed to data collection." But he raised issues with drawing conclusions from police stops and said law enforcement officials have pushed to collect additional data on whether officers knew the race of the driver before pulling them over.
"There is much more to this issue than raw data of stops," Merritt said. "Those who support our law enforcement officers should not blindly conclude bias exists without being part of the solution."
Missouri Police Chiefs Association President Wes Blair referred questions about the attorney general's findings to Executive Director Sheldon Lineback, who on Friday said he has been out on medical leave and had not yet read the report. Lineback did not immediately comment.
The attorney general released the annual police stops findings on May 31, within days of Plain View Project researchers flagging 166 bigoted or violent social media posts by active-duty and former cops in St. Louis and other cities, sparking an internal affairs probe and officer sensitivity training in St. Louis.
One St. Louis police official shared a meme asserting that "if the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month."
The progressive advocacy group Empower Missouri is calling for increased communication between police and communities and policies "that help to break down the socioeconomic barriers that disproportionately affect People of Color in our state," according to a release from the group in response to the latest police stops report.
The organization also wants "meaningful legislation to address the inherent structural problems within our criminal justice system."
"If you don't have any teeth in that law that bans racial profiling, then you won't get compliance," said Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan, of the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin. "We need to get Republicans on board to recognize that it's a crisis. We have data to prove this has been going on for two decades."
Missouri law allows the governor to strip state funding from police agencies that don't comply with the state's racial profiling law . State Budget Director Dan Haug said at least as far back as 2015, that has not occurred.
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