- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

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.

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