A self-described advocate for police accountability is suing St. Louis for the release of police stop records that he believes could prove certain officers target black motorists but that he says the police department has refused to supply.
Black drivers in Missouri are 91% more likely than white motorists to be pulled over by police, according to a report released by Missouri’s attorney general this year. But the annual vehicle stops report does not include data on specific officers.
Activist Phillip Weeks, who runs the Grassroots Accountability Movement website, filed an open-records request with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in early July seeking specific officers’ traffic stop records to reveal whether some indulge in racial profiling. But he has received no information and has been met with repeated roadblocks.
“The people of Missouri have a right to know whether law enforcement officers are using traffic stops as a means to harass or target minority drivers,” Weeks said in a statement.
The MacArthur Justice Center filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Weeks, hoping that a judge would force the city to turn over records.
St. Louis City Counselor Julian Bush on Thursday said police deny the existence of the documents that Weeks requested.
Law enforcement officers in Missouri are required by law to collect and submit data detailing vehicle stops.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department stores its data with a company that provides information technology services to government agencies. The lawsuit claims that the company, the Regional Justice Information Services Commission, also collects the service number of the officer involved in the stop.
According to the lawsuit, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in an Aug. 9 email told Weeks that the agency doesn’t have a record of a database with the information he requested and is not obligated to create one.
But the lawsuit claims it does exist, pointing out that another police agency and the Regional Justice Information Services Commission provided Weeks with such a database.
No one at the Regional Justice Information Services Commission responded to an Associated Press request for comment.
The police department’s “refusal to turn the data over is just an evasion tactic to sidestep public accountability,” MacArthur attorney Amy Breihan said in a statement.
Racism continues to plague Missouri more than five years after protesters in Ferguson drew national attention to longstanding concerns about police treatment of black communities. The protests followed the police shooting death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old who lived in the St. Louis suburb.
The NAACP issued a travel advisory in 2017 warning people of color, women, seniors, the LGBT community and people with disabilities to be careful in Missouri because of a danger that their civil rights won't be respected, citing in part the attorney general's annual report on disparities in police stops.
Data released by Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt shows the disparity between black and white drivers being pulled over in Missouri last year was the highest recorded in the almost two decades since the state first began compiling data.