Friday, June 1, 2012

Local Media Spins Report to Imply MO Police are Racist

Here's how KSHB is reporting the latest study on race and traffic stops:

Attorney General Chris Koster says the disparity for black drivers has grown in 10 of the last 12 years. He calls it a "disturbing trend" but says it is not conclusive evidence of racial profiling. 
Police also were more likely to arrest black and Hispanic drivers and search their vehicles.
No, blacks aren't more likely to commit traffic violations, you know, like high speed car chases, drive by shootings, hit and runs, DUIs, and so on, it's racist cops unfairly targeting black drivers.  Apparently, it's just a coincidence that those same traffic stops resulted in more arrests of black and Hispanic drivers.

Take a look at the consistency of how KSHB reports the data making it virtually impossible to compare the rate of white vs black vs Hispanic stops:

An annual report released Friday by the attorney general found black drivers were 72 percent more likely than white motorists to be pulled over in 2011. Black drivers were stopped 2.5 times more often than Hispanic drivers.
The first comparison, white vs black stops is presented as a percentage, 72% to be exact.  So, does that mean that if 100 whites are stopped a 172 blacks are?  That sure doesn't seem like that big of a disparity.  I supposed given the overall demographics of MO it's shows on over representation, but what if there are just simply more police patrolling black neighborhoods, where crime rates are the highest, then there are suburban and rural areas?

Now look at how they compare black vs Hispanic stops, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be stopped.  So if a 100 Hispanics are stopped 250 blacks are?  Doesn't that seem like a more alarming statistic?  But I guess headlines like, "blacks more likely to be pulled over than Hispanics" doesn't quite have the same impact as insinuating white privilege?

The truth is these stats are meaningless without more information. Where did the traffic stops occur?  What were the violations?  What is the population density in areas stops were made?   There are other problems with how racial statistics are recorded.  For example, when making a traffic stop, how do you classify someone who is, as the NY Times put it, "white Hispanic" or like the president "white Black"?  Are they white or Hispanic?  Is that classification over or under reporting statistics for those demographics?

The mere existence of data tells us nothing without in-depth analysis.  Unfortunately for Kansas City, that's something the local media typically shies away from.

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