Changes coming to Vehicle Stop Report to prevent inaccuracies

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The 2020 Vehicle Stops Report will include data on residential zip code of pulled-over drivers. 

In previous years, the Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) has come under scrutiny for the disparity of vehicle stops for Black Americans compared to white Americans. The WGPD’s public information officer, Lieutenant Andy Miller, believes the previous reports incorrectly showed a disparity. 

According to Miller, there were issues with the Missouri Attorney General’s report in previous years. Miller pointed out the report deals with a general population and broader demographics. 

“We deal with people who don’t reside in the city of Webster Groves,” Miller said. “So, it skews the numbers. That creates a disparity in reporting.”  

The 2020 Vehicle Stops Report (VSR) from the Missouri Attorney General’s office will implement new changes to the report. The changes include new questions on the VSR’s form, expanded response options and quality of life adjustments. 

A “disparity number” in the VSR is represented on a scale where “1” depicts equal representation of stops based on the local population. Numbers over or under “1” represent over-representation and under-representation, respectively. 

The most recent report, the 2019 VSR, showed a disparity of 2.21 for Black Americans. White Americans showed a disparity of 0.88. Compared to the 2018 VSR, the disparity for Black Americans stopped in Webster Groves fell by .31 while the disparity for whites rose by .04. 

Chris Nuelle, press secretary for the Missouri Attorney General’s office acknowledged the issue Miller brought up and stated “the 2020 changes to the report directly address this issue.” 

Black Americans make up 4.32% of the Webster Groves population, but 24.16% of St. Louis County and 46.1% of the City of St. Louis according to World Population Review. The 2020 VSR aims to take such data into account by including the residential zip code of pulled-over drivers. 

Graphic by Cas Waigand

Compared to the neighboring municipalities of Crestwood and Kirkwood, the WGPD still scored higher on the racial disparity for vehicle stops of Black Americans. Black Americans make up 1.6% of the population of Crestwood and 5.52% of Kirkwood, which is comparable to the resident Black population of Webster Groves. The Crestwood Police Department had a disparity of 1.31, and the Kirkwood Police Department had a disparity of 1.42 — both lower than WGPD’s 2.21 disparity. 

The 2020 Vehicle Stops Report Changes Summary from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office says: 

“Resident populations are used to benchmark traffic stop racial/ethnic compositions in the VSR. However, resident population can be significantly different from the driving population in an area. Driver residential zip codes will allow more realistic benchmarks based on likely commuter populations.” 

These changes will provide a more accurate analysis of racial disparities in vehicle traffic stops. The new data with incorporated changes will be included in the 2020 VSR. 

  Miller told The Journal to expect an overall reduction in total stops by the WGPD  in the 2020 report due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Miller said the reduction in traffic stops was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and “keep people healthy.” 

When asked about the WGPD’s commitment to future improvements in racial disparities regarding vehicle stops,  Miller referred to the previous discrepancies in the VSR’s data.

“There wasn’t really a problem that existed,” Miller said.

The 2020 VSR must be reported to the Missouri General Assembly, Missouri Governor’s office and each law enforcement agency by the Attorney General’s office by June 1. Last year’s report was released to the public on May 29, 2020. 

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Caleb Sprous
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