New data released Wednesday show black drivers in Missouri were 75 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over last year, the highest level since the state began compiling data on traffic stops 17 years ago.
The annual report by the state attorney general's office shows an uptick compared to last year — when blacks were 69 percent more likely than whites to be stopped by police — and a historical upward trend since lawmakers first called for annual reports in 2000.
Police treatment of blacks in Missouri fell under heightened scrutiny following the August 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to charge Darren Wilson, the white officer who killed Brown, and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation cleared him of wrongdoing in the death.
However, a Justice Department report released in March 2015 cited racial bias and profiling in Ferguson's policing, and a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted black residents.
The recent report by Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's office shows blacks were more than five times as likely to be pulled over compared to whites in proportion to the city's population, which according to 2010 census data is 63 percent black and about 34 percent white. Blacks were nearly 73 times more likely than whites to be pulled over in Ferguson last year in proportion to the state's racial breakdown, which is about 11 percent black and 83 percent white.
"To say that it doesn't exist, that it doesn't happen is equivalent to sticking your head in the sand," St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said of racial bias in policing.
Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and people of mixed or unknown races were stopped statewide at rates below their proportion of the driving-age population, the report said.
Other statewide findings for Missouri show blacks, Hispanics and American Indians were more likely to be searched, but contraband was less likely to be found during searches. The report says the higher search rate might be in part attributed to the higher arrest rates among those populations, which lead to searches even if no contraband is suspected.
While about 4 percent of white motorists were arrested after traffic stops, 6.6 percent of black drivers were and 7 percent of Hispanic drivers were arrested. Roughly 4.3 percent of traffic stops of American Indians resulted in arrests.
Stanford University computational social scientist Sharad Goel, who's leading a team that's compiling a national database of traffic stops, said it's difficult to compare Missouri in terms of racial disparities because of differences in data collection and varying policies between states.
Hawley, who took office in January, said he's revising Missouri data collection in response to some complaints that traffic stops also include drivers who don't live in the area such as shoppers or people who commute to work.
He said in the report that "a better and more informative approach would compare the frequency of stops involving particular groups to the number of group members who actually do drive in the jurisdiction," and he's asking police to also record whether motorists reside in the jurisdictions in which they were stopped.
Missouri Police Chiefs Association Executive Director Sheldon Lineback said nonresident drivers might inflate racial disparities in data when compared to the local population.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a black Democrat from St. Louis, also praised the change, saying in a statement that it will mean "more data to conclude whether unreasonable factors play a role in stopping a driver."
Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP said he's concerned about discounting police stops of nonresidents that might also be racially motivated.
"What matters is race," he said. "Not where they live."