Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Black Drivers in St. Louis Charged with Resisting Arrest at Four Times the Rate of White Drivers

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Empower Missouri has crunched data on the state's 1.6 million traffic stops in 2014. - COURTESY OF FLICKR/THOMAS HAWK
  • Courtesy of Flickr/Thomas Hawk
  • Empower Missouri has crunched data on the state's 1.6 million traffic stops in 2014.

Black drivers pulled over by law enforcement in the city of St. Louis in 2014 were four times more likely be charged with resisting arrest than white drivers. In St. Louis County, they were more than twice as likely to face such charges.

That's according to an analysis by Empower Missouri, which drilled down statewide statistics collected by the Missouri Attorney General's Office. Those same statistics led to a report from the office yesterday showing that black drivers were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than their white counterparts.

Now Empower Missouri has drilled more deeply into those numbers -- offering insight both into what happens after drivers are stopped, and the track record of individual law enforcement agencies.

The social justice group will discuss its findings at a press conference in St. Louis this morning.

As Don Love, the agency's Human Rights Task Force Chair, explains, the statistics compiled by Koster's office aren't as helpful as they might be from a strict legal standard. One big reason is that there's no way to determine the racial breakdown of actual drivers on the road in any given municipality, which is key in arguing disparate treatment for minorities. Even for the statewide statistics, Koster was forced to use the percentage of driving-age population as a base number. That's an imprecise base, at best, to argue that black drivers are suffering disparate treatment.

But the datasets collected by Koster's office do allow for a precise comparison on one front: what happens to drivers after they're stopped. The base population -- all drivers who were stopped by law enforcement in Missouri in 2014 -- is meticulously defined, with each driver's race documented.

Some outcomes are fairly clearcut. If police see drugs in plain sight, naturally they'll make an arrest. Same with arrests for an outstanding warrant. Black drivers would have a hard time claiming discrimination if they suffered higher arrest rates on those metrics.

But others are not. Police have wide discretion, for example, in asking drivers if they can search their cars. If they have probable cause, they need not ask for consent -- so consent searches are by nature more ambiguous, Love says.

That's also true for incidents when officers call in drug dogs. They can do that if they suspect drugs, but don't have probable cause. If black drivers are being subjected to dogs more frequently, Love says, it may suggest bias.

In St. Louis County, according to Empower Missouri's analysis, drug dogs were called in for black drivers at a rate of 2.6 times that of white drivers. In St. Louis city, the disparity wasn't quite so bad -- but dogs were still called in for black drivers at a rate of 1.4 times that of their white counterparts.

The rates of consent searches also showed disparity. In St. Louis city, officers were 1.4 more times more likely to ask to search a black driver's vehicle. In St. Louis County, they were 1.2 times more likely.

But nothing compared in either jurisdiction to the rate of drivers being cited for resisting arrest. In St. Louis city, black drivers were charged with resisting arrest 4.2 times as frequently as white drivers. In St. Louis County, it was 2.6 times.

Those charges suggest a need for further training, Love says.

"In some jurisdictions, officers have the skills to keep the situation from getting out of hand," he says. "Some are good. Others aren't quite so good. If you see a department has very few resisting arrests cases, and the disparity is also low, it's a good sign they're doing what they should be doing.

"If it's a high number," he adds, "it doesn't necessarily indicate bias. But they could use cross-cultural training. If the officers had better training on deescalating these situations, we'd see a lot fewer incidents we'd regret after the fact."

Overall, Love says, a preliminary look at the data suggests some improvement. Both Clayton and Ladue police departments did a good job, he says, and Ferguson's numbers are pretty good as well.

"In general, as bad as the numbers are in Missouri, there are some things that don't look so bad," Love says. "But there is definitely room for improvement. When a rate goes from a four to a three, that's good -- but the three is still bad when you're the motorist being affected."

See also: Black Drivers Were 75 Percent More Likely to Be Stopped Than White Ones, AG's Report Says

We welcome your tips and feedback. Contact the writer via email at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com.

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