Study: Po­lice treat white mo­torists bet­ter than blacks

Of­fi­cers’ race did not im­pact be­hav­ior to those pulled over

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREW BLAKE

Po­lice of­fi­cers, re­gard­less of their own race, speak more re­spect­fully to white mo­torists dur­ing rou­tine traf­fic stops than black mo­torists, Stan­ford Univer­sity re­searchers wrote in a first-of-its-kind study pub­lished Mon­day.

An analysis of nearly 1,000 traf­fic stops recorded by po­lice body-worn cam­eras in­di­cated that of­fi­cers are more in­clined to use re­spect­ful terms such as “sir” and “ma’am” while deal­ing with white driv­ers than black ones, re­gard­less of the race of the of­fi­cers in­volved, ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers.

“Our find­ings high­light that, on the whole, po­lice in­ter­ac­tions with black com­mu­nity mem­bers are more fraught than their in­ter­ac­tions with white com­mu­nity mem­bers,” said Stan­ford psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Jen­nifer Eber­hardt, co-au­thor of the re­port pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences jour­nal.

The Stan­ford team based its find­ings on re­view­ing 981 traf­fic stops recorded in April 2014 by the Oak­land Po­lice De­part­ment in Cal­i­for­nia. Af­ter tran­scrib­ing about 183 hours of body cam­era footage, the re­searchers asked a group of hu­man par­tic­i­pants to re­view a sub­sam­ple of the in­ter­ac­tions and rate “how re­spect­ful, po­lite, friendly, for­mal and im­par­tial the of­fi­cer was in each ex­change,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The re­searchers used those rat­ings to de­velop a com­pu­ta­tional lin­guis­tic model to an­a­lyze tran­scripts for lin­guis­tic pat­terns, then used that for­mula to an­a­lyze the rest of the tran­scripts and rate the ex­changes with re­gard to re­spect.

“We find that of­fi­cers speak with con­sis­tently less re­spect to­ward black ver­sus white com­mu­nity mem­bers, even af­ter con­trol­ling for the race of the of­fi­cer, the sever­ity of the in­frac­tion, the lo­ca­tion of the stop and the out­come of the stop,” the re­searchers con­cluded.

Specif­i­cally, the Stan­ford team found that white mo­torists are 57 per­cent more likely to hear an of­fi­cer use a term of re­spect, such as “sir,” “ma’am,” “please” and “thank you,” than black mo­torists. Blacks are 61 per­cent more likely to hear an of­fi­cer say phrases and words rated least re­spect­ful, such as “dude,” “bro” and “hands on the wheel,” ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers.

“The rea­son we chose to look at re­spect in par­tic­u­lar is be­cause we know from other re­search on pro­ce­dural jus­tice that re­spect is im­por­tant to peo­ple,” Ms. Eber­hardt told the San Fran­cisco Gate. “You build trust with the com­mu­nity one in­ter­ac­tion at a time. We were in­ter­ested in look­ing at th­ese more com­mon, ev­ery­day in­ter­ac­tions that ev­ery­body was hav­ing, rather than th­ese high-pro­file cases where you’re try­ing to ad­ju­di­cate who was right or wrong.

“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,” she added. “To­gether, re­searchers and po­lice de­part­ments can use th­ese tools to im­prove po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions.”

Po­lice con­duct a to­tal of roughly 26 mil­lion traf­fic stops na­tion­wide each year, ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers.

Oak­land Po­lice of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, the Gate re­ported.


A Stan­ford Univer­sity study found cops are more likely to speak dis­re­spect­fully and harshly to black mo­torists ver­sus whites, and not to use “sir” or “ma’am” with blacks.

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