COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Columbia Police Department held a meeting Wednesday evening with certain members of the public to collaborate on ways to address police vehicle stop data and racial disparities.
"We have, for years now, been taking the Attorney General's report and saying that the data is insufficient to impact the racial disparity that we have in traffic stops," said Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones. "I want to get to a point with this group to where we can address some of those variables, known and unknown, so that we can improve the quality of life for the people who live here. all of the people who live here."
One of the main concerns addressed in the group's first meeting was the group's own lack of racial diversity.
"We sent out an invitation list hoping, as we have in other meetings, that different groups and individuals with certain areas of expertise would bring people to the table that had a diverse background," said Jones.
Some residents brought up the issue that of the 30 or so people that attended the meeting, only three of them were black, despite the traffic stop data showing that blacks were four times as likely to be pulled over than white drivers.
The disparity index for the data, which is measured by comparing the percentage of traffic stops involving driving-age members of a certain group, should have a value of 1. That would mean that members of that group are stopped at the rate you'd expect if they were all equally likely to be stopped.
The 2017 report for the Columbia Police Department indicated "a projected disparity index of 3.28 for African American drivers." That was an increase from 2016, when it was 3.13.
The 2018 data is not yet available.
"No more excuses about who's at the table," said Reverand James Gray, an interested citizen who attended the meeting.
Mary Ratliff with the NAACP said that she was sure there were people in the community who would want to be represented, but just didn't realize the importance of attending.
"We see we don't have everyone at the table," she said. "That means we have a job to do. We need to go back to the community."
The group's goal for the next meeting, which will be held in three weeks, is to increase community representation.
"Whether you young, whether you old, whether you black, whether you Mexican, you all know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody that you can ask to be here," said Gray.
The group also discussed getting people involved who would be willing to do the work necessary.
The raw vehicle stop data is released every summer by the attorney general's office. Here is a link to the most recent reports.
Live video of the event will be streamed in the player window below