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Study shows police are less respectful to black drivers

A study of 183 hours of body camera footage showed that police were consistently less respectful to black community members than to white ones.
police violence, black lives matter, police racism, police shootings, police use of force
Police wrestle a man to the ground. Photo: Flickr

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. The list goes on.

Their names ring out in media reports like the bullets that tore their bodies, reminders of an increasing trend of police violence, especially against young men of color.

Police shot and killed 963 people in 2016, according to a Washington Post report. Forty percent were black or Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics represent just 28 percent of the U.S. population.

Studies have identified mental illness, police use of force and institutional racism in describing the escalating violence against suspects of color, but a new study is pointing to language.

The study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed body camera footage from police officers in Oakland, California. Research showed police are more likely to speak to white people with a higher level of respect than black people.

Even when controlling for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, the location of the stop, and the outcome of the stop, the study found police officers were consistently less respectful to black community members.

“Such disparities in common, everyday interactions between police and the communities they serve have important implications for procedural justice and the building of police-community trust,” the study concluded.

Rob Voigt, lead author of the study, told CNN more work needs to be done to determine whether the racial disparity in language is present in other communities, but he said it’s research that needs to be done.

"At the very least, this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon," said Voigt, a doctoral student in the linguistics department at Stanford University.

The study was the first of its kind, analyzing more than 183 hours of body camera footage taken during 981 routine traffic stops by 245 different Oakland police officers in April of 2014. The interactions between police and community members were transcribed, read aloud and rated on a four-point scale judging how respectful, polite, friendly, formal and impartial an officer was. Each interaction was rated by at least 10 impartial volunteers.

Voigt said body camera footage represents a rich new research area, and he hopes it can be used to improve police and community relations.

"We're also hoping it inspires police departments to consider cooperating with researchers more. And facilitating this kind of analysis of body camera footage will help police departments improve their relationship with the community, and it will give them techniques for better communication," he said. 

 
 
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