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Missouri’s vehicle stops report shows pandemic impacts, possibility for more data

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(The Center Square) – Missouri’s annual report on vehicle stops shows changes in driving patterns and law enforcement, but getting more information by changing state law could make the report more valuable.

“If there are additional data points or context that needs to be added to that report to allow policymakers to make better decisions, a statutory amendment is one fantastic way to accomplish that objective,” Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said in an interview with The Center Square.

In 2000, the legislature responded to concerns of citizens regarding allegations of bias in traffic stops. A law was passed requiring law enforcement to document 10 items each time a driver of a motor vehicle is stopped. After law enforcement agencies file reports by March, the law requires the attorney general to analyze the information and submit a report to the governor, legislature and each law enforcement agency by June.

The law requires the attorney general to provide:

the total number of vehicles stopped by peace officers during the previous calendar year;the number and percentage of stopped motor vehicles that were driven by members of each particular minority group;a comparison of the percentage of stopped motor vehicles driven by each minority group and the percentage of the state’s population that each minority group comprises.

Brittany Street, a University of Missouri professor who led the research team compiling the report, said the pandemic changed driving habits, such as more people working from home, and traffic enforcement.

“The patterns of driving are in some ways forever changed,” Street said in an interview with The Center Square. “Police policies are still somewhat adjusted because of the aftermath from the pandemic.”

The report summarizes entries from 581 law enforcement agencies in the state during calendar year 2022. Overall stops increased 4% from 2021, but arrests were down .5%. Compared to 2020, stops and arrests were up 10%. However, compared to the pre-pandemic era in 2019, stops were 16% lower and arrests were 34% lower in 2022.

“I think it’s important that we constantly be looking at that report and the data,” Bailey said. “Data is numbers. Oftentimes, there’s context needed. If I tell you I eat pizza 100% of Friday nights, that may sound like I only eat pizza. Context is needed there as I also have salad as a side dish before I get to my pizza. Six other nights a week I’m eating something healthy.”

Street said the report is valuable for taxpayers as it provides a better understanding of the environment and her team is advocating for law enforcement agencies to provide additional information they’re already collecting.

“What we really want to know is what is driving the patterns, stops and those differences, especially across demographics,” Street said. “That’s what the report is designed to do – break out these demographics. But the report’s not designed to look at differences by age or gender or those things because only the aggregates are broken out by certain demographics.”

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