In 1780, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, John Adams took up his pen to help draft a new constitution for his home state. He famously wrote in that document’s opening lines that the aim of the American Revolution was to establish “a government of laws, not of men.” That has been the American ideal ever since. The rule of law is impartial. It is no respecter of persons. It restrains the violent and protects the weak. It is blind to all but conduct and character.
With this ideal in view, the Missouri General Assembly created the Annual Vehicle Stop Report nearly two decades ago. This Report was meant to further our common commitment as Missourians to the rule of law, and our common efforts to achieve it. When a person is stopped or searched or arrested only because of his race, the rule of law suffers. Racial profiling threatens that fairness and impartiality the rule of law demands. And it badly undermines the vital trust between everyday citizens and the law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect them.
As it does each year, this year’s Report contains statistics and information about certain vehicle stops conducted over the last calendar year. I hope this data will help us toward a constructive conversation about what we must do together to better achieve—and protect—the rule of law in our state.
A final word about the data itself. For years, commentators have noted that the Report only compares the number of individuals from a particular racial or ethnic group involved in traffic stops to the number of persons in that group who live in the jurisdiction and are eligible to drive. A better and more informative approach would compare the frequency of stops involving particular groups to the number of group members who actually do drive in the jurisdiction, which in some cases may differ substantially from the number who live in the jurisdiction and are of driving age.
Consequently, I am issuing new regulations that will direct law enforcement agencies to collect information about whether stopped individuals reside within the agency’s jurisdiction. This change, fully supported by both law enforcement and the civil rights community, will enable the public to draw more relevant inferences from the traffic-stop data going forward.
Concerns by the citizens of Missouri and the Missouri legislature regarding allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement prompted the passage in 2000 of Section 590.650, RSMo. That statute requires that all peace officers report specific information—including a driver’s race—for each vehicle stop made in the State. Law-enforcement agencies must provide the data to the Attorney General by March 1, and the Attorney General is required to compile the data and report to the Governor no later than June 1 of each year. The Governor may withhold state funds for any agency that does not comply with these requirements.
The statewide vehicle-stop data contained in this Report have been analyzed by Dr. Scott H. Decker, professor and director of