Updated 10:30 a.m., June 10, with comment from the Missouri Sheriffs' Association – In response to the Missouri Attorney General’s Vehicle Stops Report released on Friday, local groups and politicians are calling for accountability from Missouri law enforcement officers.
Leaders reacted to the release of the annual report on Monday morning at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, just three days after the report cited that black motorists of the driving-age population are stopped and searched at far higher rates than any other race.
Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, demanded action from state law enforcement departments and questioned what Missouri is willing to do about the report.
“I’m asking police departments around the state: Are you willing to police your own departments?” May said. “Are you willing to hold those within your ranks accountable for discrimination and for the disproportionate number of African Americans who are being stopped and harrassed by police?”
In a message in the report, Attorney General Schmitt wrote: “Importantly, this data can help law enforcement identify disparities in stops, searches and arrests and take appropriate action to improve both public safety and community relations."
Empower Missouri’s Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford wants to see St. Louis city and county numbers improve overall, and if there is no progress, then she will seek action to bring consequences to departments that show no progress.
Oxford also insisted that agencies require officer implicit bias training if their record of vehicle stops and searches is higher among minorities than they are of whites. And if training is not an option, then she wants them fired.
Other members of the coalition echoed the theme of firing officers who practice discriminatory policing. Jamala Rogers, executive director of Organization for Black Struggle, said the police departments do not have to wait on legislation to govern their agencies when it comes to correcting biased officers.
Related: Read the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report
“We are trying hard to get reform on the state level, but that doesn’t preclude the individual jurisdictions and police chiefs can’t execute their own consequences.” Rogers said. “So, if you look and see that there is a police officer's name that consistently over the years keeps coming up, it's your duty to do something about it.”
Sgt. Heather Taylor of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and president of the Ethical Society of Police said she thinks St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden is doing a good job of weeding out racist officers no matter their race, “but he is only one commander of many; everyone has to be on board with that.”
A holistic approach
Representative Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said this is not just a St. Louis issue, and he wants to take a holistic look into the racial disparities of vehicle stops and searches. Rep. Dogan will introduce his bill, the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act, to address these issues.
Also, Dogan said with his bill, he is working to get other Republicans on board so they can realize that the continuing trend of black drivers stopped and searched more often than whites is a crisis.
Representatives from the NAACP Missouri Chapter, ACLU of Missouri, Juvenile Justice Task Force of Metropolitan Congregations United, Grassroots Accountability Movement and Arch City Defenders also voiced their concerns about the report.
Organizers of the Monday event said since the report includes a substantial amount of data, they would give law enforcement agencies time to review it before acting.
On June 10, the Missouri Sheriffs' Assocation released a statement taking issue with the report and its methodology, including the use of the disparity index.
In part, the statment reads:
"It is not difficult to measure whether there is disparity between racial/ethnic groups in terms of stops made by police; census benchmarking does that well. The difficulty comes in identifying the causes for disparity. Race alone is not dispositive of why the stop was made; neither is a disparity index."
The statement concludes:
"There is much more to this issue than raw data of stops. Those who support our law enforcement officers should not blindly conclude bias exists without being part of the solution."
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea on Twitter @drebjournalist.
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