Police Officers Speak Less Respectfully To Black Residents Than To White Residents, Stanford Researchers Find


Publish Date:
June 5, 2017
Stanford News
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The first systematic analysis of police body camera footage shows that officers consistently use less respectful language with black community members than with white community members, according to new Stanford research.

Although they are subtle, these widespread racial disparities in officers’ language use may erode police-community relations, said the researchers who conducted the study, published June 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our findings highlight that, on the whole, police interactions with black community members are more fraught than their interactions with white community members,” explained Jennifer Eberhardt, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Stanford.

OPD, like many police departments nationwide, has been using body-worn cameras to monitor police-community interactions. But drawing accurate conclusions from hundreds of hours of footage is challenging, Eberhardt said. Just “cherry-picking” negative or positive episodes, for example, can lead to inaccurate impressions of police-community relations overall, she said.

“The police are already wary of footage being used against them,” Eberhardt said. “At the same time, many departments want their actions to be transparent to the public.”

Yet “researchers can’t just sit and watch every single stop,” Eberhardt explained. “It would take too long. Besides, their own biases could affect their judgments of the interactions.”

“I’m hopeful that, with the development of computational tools like ours, more law enforcement agencies will approach their body camera footage as data for understanding, rather than as evidence for blaming or exonerating,” Eberhardt said. “Together, researchers and police departments can use these tools to improve police-community relations.”

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