This week Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster released Missouri’s 2010 racial profiling statistics. The stats track the race of drivers stopped by law enforcement. They record the numbers of traffic stops, searches, search results and arrests. The results were the similar to those of years past.
Relative to the population of the various groups, Hispanics are stopped less often than whites. Asians are stopped only half as often as whites. Native Americans might as well be invisible and are stopped only 1/7th as often as whites. The report uses a “disparity index” to report how much a racial group is under/over represented as a percentage of that group’s population.
Koster reported, “the disparity index for African-American drivers continues to be of significant concern. The disparity index for African-American drivers decreased slightly from 1.62 in 2009 to 1.61 in 2010.” He cites as a “disturbing trend” that African-American drivers were stopped 27 percent more often than their population would suggest in 2000 and 61 percent more often in 2010.
Koster does not say exactly why he is “disturbed,” but has noted that the numbers are an indicator that further inquiry is appropriate.
It seems there could be several explanations for stopping members of the over-represented group:
- the individuals are such bad drivers that they draw police attention (not likely?);
- the individuals drive unregistered or defective vehicles that draw police attention (possible, as a function of poverty perhaps?); and
- the individuals are stopped for belonging to the over-represented group (sometimes known as “driving while black.”)
Reason number three would seem to be the most “disturbing” answer.
Other interesting stats reveal the number of searches done on each group and then compares the search numbers to the success rate of those same searches (“success” meaning that the police find something illegal”). Blacks and Hispanics are about twice as likely to be searched than are whites. They are also twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop. Police are far less likely find to find contraband on Blacks and Hispanics than on whites. (White: 24.5%, African-Americans: 17.5%, Hispanics:14.4%).
When mulling over the numbers, keep in mind that when Blacks and Hispanics are arrested (twice as often as whites), they are automatically searched without police needing any reason to think they will find anything. Whites–being arrested less frequently–may get “successfully” searched more frequently, because police are only searching them when they have reason to think they will find contraband. Of course, it could also be that–as a group–whites are less likely to tell police “no” whenever a search is requested. Obviously, these would be people who don’t read this blog.
* * *
Update: I was thinking about the Native Americans being stopped only 1/7th as frequently as whites. When you consider how few even live in Missouri, you have to believe that many of those traffic stops were of non-resident Indians just passing through. That means the resident Indians are probably even less likely to get stopped than the numbers suggest. Since the Attorney General believes that “further inquiry” is needed, let me suggest that he should ask the Indians what their secret is.