‘Stopped: Profiling The Police’ Grant Request

Please provide the name of your project (80 characters)

Stopped: Profiling The Police

Target start and end dates (100 characters)

Sept. 9, 2020 – Oct. 31, 2020

Describe your project in 2-3 sentences. (1000 characters)

Kansas City PBS will analyze 20 years of law enforcement “stop data” across the state of Missouri to identify patterns of racial profiling. We will look for locations where racial profiling may be taking place, as well as look for areas where none may be occurring. We will also explore whether the law requiring the accumulation of such data has had any effect on law enforcement in the state. We will also compare/contrast this with more limited reporting on the other side of our metro in Kansas. The Missouri data is released each year by the attorney general’s office, as required by state law, and is easily available on the AG’s website. We will illuminate problems and solutions contained in this data, which is hidden in plain site.

Proposed Project Details: List the key activities and features of your project (for example, a story and interactive map). How do you plan to report about the response to the problem? Will you travel to a community that has addressed the problem? Describe your plans to engage audiences through your project. (32,000 characters)
Please also include in your narrative:

  1. The response you are covering
  2. What evidence you have about the response’s effectiveness, or what evidence you expect to be able to find (we understand that you may gather additional evidence and insight over the course of your project).
  3. What insights you hope to provide on whether this response could work elsewhere or in other contexts.
  4. How you will investigate the limitations and challenges of the response (we understand that you may encounter additional limitations and challenges over the course of your project).

Kansas City PBS response:

Two decades ago, Ferguson, Missouri, was a long way from becoming a national symbol of police brutality. It would be years, too, before George Floyd would become the latest in a long line of black men who died questionable deaths at the hands of white police officers.

It was then, however, in June 1999, that a powerful report by the American Civil Liberties Union highlighted evidence of another type of abuse of power: traffic stops that disproportionately targeted minorities.

The report, Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways, was groundbreaking not for any new statistical analysis of stops. Rather, the report simply compiled a mountain of publicly available evidence from around the country, including media reports and data from ACLU lawsuits, that heavily suggested racial profiling by cops.

In June 2000, Missouri became the fourth state to heed the report’s call for collecting traffic-stop data as a way to combat racial profiling by law enforcement.

An American Bar Association article published in early 2020 cited Missouri as one of just a handful of states that did not have a sunset provision in its law. Each year, the state issues what it calls the Vehicle Stops Report (VSR).

The collection and dissemination of racial profiling data was supposed to improve policing, and by extension, make for warmer relations between minorities and law enforcement personnel.

Yet Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer, and the protests that followed, suggest law enforcement still has a ways to go to root out racism and win the trust of the public. Sunlight provided by the racial profiling statistics has seemingly failed to fully disinfect departments of their prejudices.

The data has routinely shown that people of color are stopped and searched at rates greater than you would expect for their percentage of the population, and rates greater than white motorists.

Has this all been an exercise in futility? Or can this approach live up to its billing as a catalyst for change?

Kansas City PBS will dig into the numbers to look for trends among local agencies, be they urban, rural or suburban. Perhaps there is a diamond in the rough — or two, or three, or more — where the data collection has prompted agency reforms.

We will find those agencies and highlight lessons learned and best practices. We will detail all the ups and downs that came with these changes. And through this reporting, we can prove to law enforcement agencies both big and small that change for the better is possible — and desirable.

So too, will we spotlight perennially poor performers. Is this an example of small-town racism? Perhaps not. But reporting that uncovers institutional hurdles in one community can spur local activists to push for change, no matter what the cause. Failures also highlight pitfalls for other agencies to avoid.

By the same token, we will highlight legislative and regulatory reforms spurred by the data.

Most notably, as outlined by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in this year’s report, his office has revised data collection in what he said will allow for a “fundamental shift in the level of analysis possible through the VSR.” The changes are now in place, with early results potentially available for analysis.

On its face, this seems to be a good-faith effort to improve accountability of local police agencies while taking into account the many factors that can skew results without being evidence of racial profiling.

For instance, one new question on the field report has the officer including the residential ZIP code of the driver. A locality that draws a lot outsiders, such as a county seat, might look bad when measured against the demographics in its home community, but might merely reflect the diversity of nonlocal visitors.

Caveats like that abound when analyzing this data, and we will acknowledge those limitations.

Our reporting will also include observations from bureaucrats and legislators. Has the data informed other legislative or regulatory reforms? Has any governor ever withheld state funds from an agency that does not submit its data, as the law allows?

Kansas City PBS will also make use of the federal data that pertains to this issue, including the Police-Public Contact Survey, which the Bureau of Justice Statistics has conducted every three years since 1996. This data includes race and demographic information from traffic stops.

Our reporting will also mine the considerable amount of academic research around the topic of racial profiling by law enforcement, including speaking with professors who have been involved with Missouri’s information gathering from the beginning.

Finally, Kansas City PBS will include observations and analysis by organizations such as the ACLU.

The backbone of this multimedia investigation will be a written online report, which will include photos and data visualizations. Video for online and TV will augment the written report.

With an approach refined over several multi-media projects, Kansas City PBS will also break out key components of the story to share via social media as the reporting unfolds.

As the owner of a Triple A public radio station, The Bridge 90.9 FM, Kansas City PBS will amplify our findings by having our reporters appear as guests on the radio.

And finally, Kansas City PBS will engage the public through public discussion with one of our trusted community partners. Our public affairs chief Nick Haines is a master at planning and moderating these discussions that bring together diverse representatives for half-hour discussions that air as TV specials. This topic can be explored either through our weekly “Kansas City Week in Review” public affairs program, or via a special 30-minute townhall format.

In today’s environment, where names like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, along with Floyd, have become synonymous with law enforcement’s seeming indifference to the lives of people of color, disparities in traffic stops might seem a bit tame. More of a nuisance, than a threat to life and limb.

Yet, another high-profile incident in the Twin Cities, which seems to have already faded from memory, illustrates the potential danger of a traffic stop.

It was only four years ago that a Latino officer shot and killed Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul. The incident made national headlines as Castile’s girlfriend, who was also in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live.

The stop began over a broken tail light.

Urgency/Topic: Why is reporting on this topic area urgent or important right now (either in your community or in your newsroom)? How is this currently being covered, if at all, and what are the limitations of the current coverage? How might your audience respond to solutions-oriented coverage? (32,000 characters)

Kansas City PBS response:

Equitable law enforcement is a topic that is top of mind right now in Kansas City, as well as across the country. Local protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have riveted the attention of our audience on all matters involving race. There is an active debate about whether to bring the Kansas City Police Department, which is overseen by a state-appointed board, back under local control for the first time in decades. And the federal government has targeted Kansas City for a surge of federal agents as part of Operation LeGend. At a time when newsrooms are shrinking across the industry, a deep look into readily available, but almost never covered, law enforcement stop data could provide crucial context for an urgent and ongoing discussion of how we approach public safety.

As demonstrators and law enforcement continue to clash in the nation’s streets, there is hardly any topic more urgent than improving the relationship between police and the people they are sworn to protect and serve. De-escalating tensions is a matter of life and death for all parties.

While this fraught environment has given rise to radical approaches, such as defunding police departments, this seems like a perfect time to revisit a more moderate solution meant to eliminate racial biases among law enforcement.

The events of the past few months might suggest the time for moderation is past — that simply shaming departments with their own negative data is a quaint notion that has had little impact.

In truth, this public shaming has never occurred on a sustained basis.

Scott H. Decker is a retired professor who has analyzed the racial profiling data ever since Missouri started collecting it in 2000. In the early years, he said, the attorney general’s office would make a big show of presenting the data, generating a lot of press coverage and publicity.

But those days are long gone. The release of the data is an afterthought.

Need proof?

Missouri’s racial profiling statute requires the attorney general to inform law makers of the state findings each year by June 1. This year’s release came just days after the death of George Floyd, while protesters were out in force in and around Kansas City.

Despite the pertinence of the data to the current events, this year’s release garnered no local media attention.

Not even from The Kansas City Star, which as late as December 2019 editorialized against the disparities highlighted by the data and called for passage of legislative measures giving the law more teeth to sanction individual officers.

In order to amplify its coverage of the racial profiling data, Kansas City PBS will make our reporting available to respected local media outlets such as The Call, which serves the Black community, and two papers serving the Hispanic community, Dos Mundos and KC Hispanic News.

Content sharing such as this has become a growing area of focus for many niche and nonprofit news organizations within our region. In recent months, we have worked cooperatively to share content with Kansas News Service, Kansas Reflector, KC Studio, CitySceneKC, Shawnee Mission Post, LINC, the Journal of the Kansas Leadership Center, the Midwest Center for Investigative Journalism, Next Avenue and Rewire. For Kansas City PBS, the animating principle behind all of this is “low fences, friendly neighbors.” While we share our content with cooperating partners, we also offer our digital, television and radio “pipes” to help distribute more quality journalism with our growing audience.

While the names of George Floyd and others are now known to households across America, Kansas City, too, has its own names of Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers.

One of those names is Ryan Stokes, a 24-year-old Black man shot in 2013 by a police officer after a foot chase led them to a parking garage near a downtown entertainment district. Stokes was killed by two gunshots in the back. He was unarmed, but the police officer who shot Stokes said he thought Stokes had a gun.

We hope that our coverage will remind our audience of a longstanding effort in Missouri to eliminate racial biases among law enforcement. More importantly, we hope that our coverage of the seeming failings of the data-gathering approach will spur meaningful reforms.

Ferguson is all the way across the state from Kansas City. But it seems fitting that a Missouri news outlet could remind our audience – and hopefully people beyond our borders – of a police reform that could help eliminate the senseless killing of Black people by white police officers.

# of Solutions-Oriented Stories: How many stories do you hope to produce with this project?


Engagement: Will there be audience engagement activities complementing your solutions reporting, if so which? (32,000 characters)

Kansas City PBS response

Kansas City PBS has a long tradition of public service that has laid the foundation for its expanding news gathering relationship with our community. We are blessed to operate across a wide portfolio of media platforms.

Through years of collaboration, Kansas City PBS has also developed tight relationships with community organizations on the frontlines of the movement for racial equality and police reform in our city. Some of these organizations include the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and a faith-based organization called More2.

On this project, Kansas City PBS will once again work with these trusted partners to help inform our journalism and broaden the impact of our reporting beyond our media platforms. Other potential partners include the Kansas City office of the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Aid of Kansas City.

Our flagship public television operation, which offers four channels of programming, is viewed by an average of 450,000 homes weekly, and reaches about 1 million TV households in Kansas and Missouri. FlatlandKC, our digital magazine launched in 2013, has increased its audience by nearly 70 percent so far this year, to more than 310,000 users. Besides TV and Flatland, Kansas City PBS also operates an NPR-affiliated AAA radio station, 90.9 The Bridge. In addition to various social media platforms, we also produce a variety of weekly newsletters, as well as a monthly membership guide. And we have a variety of educational outreach programs.

Our various content platforms — television, radio, digital, social media and educational outreach — exist to serve the diversity of our region. Put simply, we meet our audience where they are. We explore complicated issues with thoughtful reporting. We share the diverse stories of people, places, and progress in our community. We advance conversations through community engagement and social media.

All told, we reach an audience of more than 1.3 million people a month. Our broadcast signal reaches a total population of 2,942,895 in all or parts of 35 counties in and around the Kansas City metropolitan area. Across all media platforms, Kansas City PBS employs nearly 20 editors, on-air hosts, reporters, video producers and social media managers, in addition to community contributors. We have an enormous opportunity to engage our audience in a variety of ways, and this coverage will be shared across all of our platforms.

Revenue/Fundraising: How do you plan to generate revenue or fundraise around this solutions journalism project (if at all)? Will you apply for grants, host events, or fundraise through other community outreach? (32,000 characters)

Kansas City PBS response:

Kansas City PBS operations have always been supported by a mix of individual memberships, foundations and strategic partners. Support is directed to specific projects as well as the station’s core mission. KCPBS leadership, staff and board review sustainably on a regular basis — specifically staffing and finances — and establish a working blueprint to assure KCPBS continues to deliver quality programming, develop new innovations, serve our audiences and remain responsive to funders, supporters and community champions. KCPBS’ sustainability plan is framed by our commitment to collective, community impact.

Financial sustainability includes:

  • KCPBS values the support of over 28,000 members. Many are sustaining members (monthly donors). Membership is encouraged through on-air, online, social media and direct marketing efforts.
  • Members of KCPBS’ Producers Society are major donors who support with annual gifts of $1,000 or more. These donors are an affirmation of KCPT’s goodwill and work within the community.
  • Foundations — these benevolent organizations represent a significant portion of revenue for KCPBS each year providing much needed funding for general operating support as well as special projects and community outreach.
  • KCPBS regularly partners with corporate sponsors who provide financial support for general operations and a wide variety of special projects ranging from educational initiatives to community outreach and television productions.

Please fill out the following budget. Please do not use special characters, for example instead of $814.00 enter 814.

  • Transportation $500
  • Hiring freelancer(s) $3,000
  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Community engagement $1,000
  • Other $500