A civil rights coalition is asking for increased dialogue between communities and police agencies to address disparities in law enforcement treatment of racial groups.

The organization Empower Missouri has done an analysis of the Attorney General Josh Hawley’s recently released Vehicle Stops Report (VSR).  The report is a byproduct of legislation which established a racial profiling law in 2000.

Bills to make change to the statute were introduced this year.  They were sponsored by Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis).  Under those bills, police agencies would be required to provide a reason for disparities in stops of minority groups versus white people.

The agencies would also be required to have policies calling for officers to act on facts about an individual, not on supposed facts about any group.

Further, the bills would give the attorney general the power to examine the agencies that have high disproportions and seek to have them dismantled if they fail to try and lower the disparities.

The analysis of the Vehicle Stops Report by Empower Missouri concludes that minority groups, especially African American drivers, are affected at a disproportionate rate by officer actions during stops.

An explanation of it said the data wasn’t being used to prove officers are guilty of bias, but was being utilized to see if another Ferguson can be avoided with improved policies and better training and supervision of officers.

Don Love – co-chair Human Rights Task Force at Empower Missouri (photo courtesy of Empower Missouri)

Empower Missouri’s Don Love, who performed the analysis, says he looked at the actions of officers after they pulled people over.

“It looks not at the disproportions figured on the basis of who you think the drivers are, but it figures on disproportions for what officers do after a stop, when you can use the group proportions of drivers who have been stopped as the benchmark” said Love.

It turns out that in the categories of officer actions that are most likely to involve bias, such as consent searches, there has been a decline.

“This year and last year it’s gotten so low that it’s almost not there anymore” Love said.  “This year, both Hispanics and African Americans are affected at a rate 1.09% times that if white drivers.  And I think that’s getting low enough you can ignore it.”

There are some outlier agencies, such as the Springfield Police Department, which conducted 300 consent searches with twice as many of them on African American drivers.

Another category observed in the analysis was incidents of “resisting arrests”, in which African Americans statewide were twice as likely to resist as their white counterparts.  Love says the analysis focused on certain categories, such as resisting arrests, because they offer insight into officers’ intent.

“These are just good indicators because they’re situations that involve high officer discretion, which can be affected by what the officers try to do very easily.  And it’s easier to see the results than some other situations.”

The analysis contends that if agencies took steps to reduce the disproportions affecting minority drivers or demonstrated to the public that officer bias is not involved, law enforcement would be fairer and officers would enjoy more support.

Love says the examination doesn’t conclude that there’s any intentional bias by police agencies.

“I think it’s enough for someone to get pretty worked up about ‘I want an explanation for this’, but it’s not something that’s appropriate to say ‘You bastards need to quit what you’re doing’.  Let’s tone it down a little bit and use the data rationally.  This is a chance for us to get on the same page.”

State Rep. Steven Roberts (D-St. Louis)

One reason the coalition is focusing so heavily on the Vehicle Stops Report is to draw attention to the legislation which would change the racial profiling law.  “It gives us a chance to say ’The sorts of thing we’re showing you in the Vehicle Stop Report will be a lot easier to see if the law is revised’” said Love.

State Rep. Steven Roberts (D-St. Louis) issued a statement Monday, noting the attorney general’s report shows black drivers were 75 percent more likely than white motorists to be pulled over last year.

He said the statistics emphasize the need for legislation he sponsored this year that would have prohibited law enforcement agencies from requiring officers to issue a specific number of citations within a designated time period.

“During my time as a prosecutor, I saw how much of a detrimental impact quotas have on law-abiding citizens” said Roberts.  “The quotas currently in place encourage officers to seek out crimes and penalize, regardless of the seriousness of the offense.”