The numbers can be crunched, examined and scrutinized in a variety of ways, but the facts remain: Overall traffic stops were down in Lee’s Summit for the year 2013 compared to the previous 365 days, but black drivers were more than two times more likely to be pulled over by police than their white or Hispanic counterparts according to data released from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
Missouri law requires law enforcement agencies to report their annual traffic-stop data to the attorney general’s office, which must produce a report by June 1.
In the latest report released June 1, the Lee’s Summit Police Department is shown to have reported a total of 16,105 traffic stops in 2013, down from 18,265 stops in 2012, but up slightly from 15,636 stops in 2011.
Of those 16,000-plus stops, 13,014 were whites over the age of 16 within the 68,685 people counted as eligible to drive. Blacks were stopped 2,498 times, Hispanics 294 times, Asian 130 times, American-Indian three times and others 166 times. Others included people of mixed and unknown race.
What the numbers in the release didn’t show was a quarterly report produced by the Lee’s Summit Police Department that aims to stem the tide of biased-based policing. Of the 36 complaints levied last year against the LSPD, only one was a biased-based grievance.
“About six years ago we instituted what’s called an Early Warning System,” said Scott Lyons, interim police chief for Lee’s Summit. “That was one of the standards we had to have (to reach national accreditation). What we do is we actually analyze a lot of different things and biased-based policing is one of those. We go through complaints, discipline action, use of force, incident reports, preventable crashes and vehicle pursuits. We also look at biased-based policing as a part of that.”
The disparity index in 2013 for black drivers was 2.04 compared to whites at 0.94, Hispanics at 0.58, Asians at 0.46 and other races at 0.81. Disparity index measures the likelihood drivers of a given race or ethnic group are stopped based on their proportion of the residential population age 16 and over.
For example, the local population of blacks in Lee’s Summit included in the latest report is 7.59 percent with whites making up 85.95 percent of the local population, Hispanics at 3.15 percent, Asians at 1.75 percent and other races at 1.27 percent.
The disparity index in 2012 was 1.96 for blacks, 0.95 for whites, 0.56 for Hispanics and 0.45 for Asians with other races at 0.56. In 2011 those numbers were 1.93 for black drivers, 0.95 for white drivers, 0.54 for Hispanics, 0.44 for Asians and 0.61 for other races.
According to the Associated Press, law enforcement officers have continuously stated that racial disparities in traffic stops may appear higher in some cities populated predominantly by white residents that have interstate highways or retail and tourist destinations, a point driven home by Lyons.
“You have a lot of factors that go on in the city,” he said. “We’re located on an interstate; we have two interstates that run through the city. We actually also have a very good economic base; a lot of business during the day time. We’re showing incremental increases (in disparity) across those times, but we’ve also had (very little) in regards to complaints along the same period.”
Despite the likelihood black drivers are stopped at a higher rate than others, Lyons said the department is proactive and aggressive dealing with biased-based policing.
“We not only check the data, but we check it against biased-based policing complaints and look at the officer’s behavior during the car stops,” Lyons said. “What we look for are patterns or a cluster of behavior that shows there is a problem, and then we address it. That gives you an overall picture of an officer and we try to use that system in such as way it helps identify a problem and catch it early before they become big problems.”
Data also showed 23.52 percent of stops in 2013 uncovered contraband with whites making up 27.18 percent of those hits. The hit rate for Hispanics drivers was 25.81 percent, while black drivers accounted for a 16.07 percent contraband hit rate.
The overall contraband hit rate in 2012 was 21.47 percent and 17.56 percent in 2011.
Statewide, according to the Associated Press, the AG’s 2013 annual report found that black drivers (1.59 disparity index) statewide were 66 percent more likely than white drivers (0.96) to be stopped based on their proportionate share of the driving-age population, similar to the disparity index in Lee’s Summit.
The report also showed that Hispanic drivers statewide were stopped at a lower proportional rate than white or black drivers as was the case in Lee’s Summit.
Law officers also searched Hispanic and black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers statewide. In Lee’s Summit, black drivers were searched at a rate of 14.45 percent, Hispanics were searched 10.54 percent of the time and whites 5.99 percent of the time. Of those who were searched statewide, whites were found with contraband at a higher rate than black and Hispanic drivers as was the case in Lee’s Summit.
The statewide report is based on a review of almost 1.7 million traffic stops made by officers for 613 law enforcement agencies. It compares the traffic-stop data to the racial composition of the population in each jurisdiction and to the state as a whole.
The disparity statewide increased slightly from 2012 but is up significantly since 2000, when the state first began reporting racial demographics about traffic stops. In 2000, blacks were 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over, the Associated Press reported.
“What we’re looking at is we’re looking to intercede before we get to a problem,” Lyons said of the department’s biased-based policing initiative. “If we didn’t you’d be looking at 365 days before you realized there was a problem if you were checking once a year. We preach this, we live it everyday and I know the reports comes out annually but if you could see behind the scenes how important this is to us I think you would come to a quick realization that this is one piece to a whole puzzle that makes up an officer’s activity.
“To say that one piece is more important than the other – this is one of the most important pieces, but there are several other pieces that we look at.”