Researchers studying the use of language by police found that officers in Oakland, Calif., are more likely to speak to white people with a higher level of respect than they give to black people. While this news of racial disparity should come as a shock to no one, it is information worth investigating to see if such disparity is widespread.
For the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, researchers used 183 hours of bodycam footage taken during 981 routine traffic stops by 245 different officers with the Oakland Police Department in April 2014, CNN reports.
The footage was transcribed, and 312 utterances spoken to black community members and 102 utterances spoken to white community members were randomly selected by the researchers for volunteers to analyze.
The volunteers were asked to read the transcript of one community member’s utterance and the response from the police officer and then, using a four-point scale, rate how respectful, polite, friendly, formal and impartial the officer was.
The study found that white community members were 57 percent more likely to have an officer speak politely to them, while black community members were 61 percent more likely to have an officer speak to them less respectfully.
According to CNN, the racial disparity happened despite the officer’s race, and among most officers, and the disparity emerged early in the interactions.
Rob Voigt, a doctoral student in the linguistics department at Stanford University who is the lead author on the study, told CNN that more research is needed to determine if this racial disparity in language occurs in other communities across the U.S., but it’s worth investigating.
“At the very least, this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon,” Voigt said.
Voigt added that he and his colleagues were grateful to the Oakland Police Department for allowing them to study the department’s bodycam footage.
“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,” Voigt said. “When people feel they’re respected by the police, they are more likely to trust the police, they are more likely to cooperate with the police, and so on and so forth. So we have reason to expect that these differences that we find have real-world effects.”
Read more at CNN.