SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Springfield City Council members looked at disparities in traffic stops over the past eight years during a lunch at the City Council Chambers on North Boonville Avenue.
According to the 2010 Census, Black people make up nearly 4% of the city’s population but account for almost 10% of all traffic stops.
The disparity index in 2019 is at 2.9, meaning a Black driver is three times more likely to be pulled over than someone would predict based on Springfield’s Black population.
In July 2020, the Springfield NAACP chapter gave three demands for police accountability, one of those is bringing down the traffic stop disparity down to one for Black drivers.
A disparity of one is the baseline and would mean the group is being pulled over the number of times you would expect based on their population.
This new report from former Missouri State professor Dr. Michael Stout shows the gap between white and Blacks being pulled over is actually growing in many cases.
The data breaks down each reason for traffic stops, including moving violations, equipment violations, license violations, and investigative stops. For Blacks, the disparity index was below 1 for each year, meaning they were stopped less than we would predict based on their overall population. Data shows the disparity has declined between 2012 and 2019.
For equipment violations, Blacks the disparity index was above one every year, with the exception of 2016. The index was 1.19 for Black drivers in 2019, meaning Blacks were stopped at about 19% higher rate than what we’d predict based on their percentage of the population.
Traffic stops that were conducted on Black drivers for license violations had a disparity index slightly above one across all eight years, while traffic stops conducted on Black drivers for investigative purposes was one of the largest disparities. The disparity index increased to 1.35 in 2019, meaning Black drivers were pulled over about 70-80% more than would be predicted.
The data then breaks down traffic stops that led to arrests, for reasons including warrants, drugs, traffic violations, and resisting arrest.
The largest disparity in this group was arrested due to an individual resisting arrest, with a disparity index increasing from 1.20 in 2018, to 2.72 in 2019.
“Realizing, of course, that disparity does not equal discrimination, I don’t want people to jump to that conclusions, but we all know that it appears the numbers are higher than they should be based on our population,” said Chief Paul Williams, with the Springfield Police Department.
The data was taken from more than 210,000 traffic stops between 2012 and 2019. In almost every category, blacks were more likely to be pulled over, searched, or arrested than what the city’s black population would predict.
Below is a list of some quick facts from the traffic stop data:
- The disparity was the highest for black men where they were nearly three and a half times more likely to be pulled over than predicted.
- The most disparity is happening, according to Dr. Stout, at South of Grand between Kansas and National and North Central Springfield.
- Resisting arrest was the highest disparity for black people.
Williams said it’s partly due to why drivers are getting arrested. As drug arrests go up, Williams said so does resisting arrests. A shift in society is also a cause for the issue.
“I think the increased spike in 2019 is absolutely due to the national narrative, lack of respect for authority, lack of compliance with directions of police officers, which results in that resisting arrest charge being added on as well,” said Williams.
Dr. Stout, however, did cite a few groups where the disparity index falls below 1 for Black drivers. It includes arrests due to DWIs, searches where the driver gave an officer consent to search, probable cause searches that resulted in an arrest, and traffic stops that resulted in a citation.
Now that we have the most up-to-date data, city leaders are asking, “what comes next?”
Chief Williams says the police department already has a system in place to “red flag” officers with the highest disparities and discuss the numbers with them.
“Those individuals get a real extensive review every year,” said Williams. “Over the 10 years we’ve been doing this, those numbers have dropped from about 25, 26 officers a year, to last year we had 15 that showed up on that red flag list.”
Williams also told City Council members one way they can reduce the Black disparity is by simply honing down the data. He says in 2021, the police department will be
Collecting data on drivers who are pulled over multiple times a year to ensure the numbers aren’t being skewed by a few repeat offenders.
The Chief also mentioned the upcoming use of body cameras helping officers and drivers during traffic stops. He says it will be specifically helpful to record when a driver gives consent to an officer in order for them to search the driver’s vehicle.
Lastly, Williams says the police department is working with the city, as well as the NAACP and Grupo Latino Americano to create an assistance program for low-income drivers to make minor car repairs.
“Instead of handing out a ticket, we’d maybe hand out a voucher, something for them to go get that equipment violation fixed, to deal with the poverty issues that I know is indicative in part of this,” said Williams. “[It will] also create a positive interaction between the officers and the driver, and lastly, they get it fixed so they aren’t getting stopped again, and again, and again for that tail light out or that headlight out.”
Williams says he’s eager to implement the program in 2021.