Council wants more time to analyze Vehicle Stops Report, Listening Tour data

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The Columbia City Council was in agreement Monday night that one business day was not enough to read 604 pages.

That’s the length of the city’s Vehicle Stops and Listening Tour Summary, which was released Thursday afternoon. It includes the Missouri Attorney General’s 2016 Vehicle Stops Report, as well as information collected from the city’s Listening Tour, an effort to gain input about the stops report.

The Listening Tour included meetings between city staff and several community groups, including Race Matters, Friends, NAACP, Minority Men’s Network and Empower Missouri. The 604-page document includes meeting minutes and email correspondences between the groups and city staff.

Race Matters, Friends Secretary Rachel Taylor said she thought the short timeframe to review the report was intentional.

“This was a deliberate tactic on part of the city to discourage reading it,” Taylor said.

Council members said it would be beneficial to have more time to read the report; Mayor Brian Treece recommended that the council be given 30 to 60 days to analyze the data before thoroughly discussing it.

The Vehicle Stops Report contains specific data of every traffic stop in Missouri. In 2016, black drivers in Columbia were more likely to be pulled over and searched than white drivers.

The city staff report presented Monday night said one flaw in the attorney general’s data is that it doesn’t account for external factors such as socioeconomic class as a reason why more black drivers are pulled over. It said that in Columbia, black people are more likely to be in poverty, and, therefore, possibly less likely to be able to replace broken equipment, like a taillight. Because of that broken taillight, the driver is more likely to be pulled over.

The most common themes in the Listening Tour were the lack of diversity within the police force, the consent search policy and communication methods used by the city.

The city’s report listed initiatives in place to address some of those themes, such as the use of body cameras to increase police accountability, requiring written consent forms before searches, decreasing officers’ education requirements and conducting diversity and sensitivity training.

Police Chief Ken Burton said lowering the education requirements for officers from 60 college credits to a high school diploma could increase the number of minority applicants.

“It would open the door for them to come in without having to go through the expense of college,” Burton said.

Taylor found that statement problematic.

“Saying that in order to attract minority candidates that we need to lower the educational requirements suggests that minority candidates are uneducated,” Taylor said. “Saying that they do not have enough money to gain education presumes that minority candidates do not prioritize education.”

These suggestions also upset Tara Warne-Griggs of Race Matters, Friends. She wrote an email to Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas before Monday’s meeting about her critiques of the Vehicle Stops and Listening Tour Summary.

“The memo indicates the existence of disparities in two short paragraphs and then spends a page and a half on why the data are incomplete and inaccurate measures of disparities,” Warne-Griggs said. She said the point of the Vehicle Stops Report was to ask questions and it failed to do so, therefore failing the community.

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