The latest research builds on a groundbreaking 2017 Stanford University study that analyzed nearly 1,000 traffic stops by Oakland, California police officers and recorded it in 2014. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, the study, which maintained the race and gender of the driver, from records presented to participants found that regardless of the demographics of the officers or the reason for the stop, “wWhen the driver was black, police officers were judged to be less respectful, less polite, less friendly, less formal and less impartial than when the driver was white. “
The difference was so great that in two-thirds of the cases it was possible to predict whether the driver was black or white based on the officers’ words alone.
The model gave researchers an opportunity to test various theories about why the police treated black citizens less respectfully than white citizens. For example:
Was it because black drivers were stopped for more serious offenses than white drivers? No. Was it a consequence of the officers speaking more formally to white drivers and more colloquially to black drivers? No. Could the actions of some “bad apple” officials be responsible for the overall trend? No. Has this discrepancy only occurred in cases that led to a quote or a ticket, but not in “everyday” interactions? No.
“We found that police officers’ interactions with black people tend to be more strained … even when there is no arrest and no violence,” the study authors concluded. “The racial differences in officers are clear and consistent, but the causes of these differences are less clear.”
Of course, I don’t want to suspect that the causes of the “racial differences in officer rank” have anything to do with white supremacy and racism.
Here is a data visualization that the researchers created. First, let’s see some sample exchanges and how they ended up on the study’s “Respect” model. Are you wondering which of these sentences suits your overtaking experience better? And more importantly, do you find any of these approaches completely alien?
Next we see how such factors of the “Respect” model were applied to black and white drivers.
Our interactions with law enforcement agencies shape the way we perceive the experiences of others. We have all seen white people rush to support the blues when differences in policing are discussed simply because they have been treated with respect.
Example: I’ve written about this before, but when I was 22 I was stopped around the corner from my house because of a loud muffler. The policeman forced me to get out of the car for some reason; it was the first time I was ever asked. When I slipped out, the officer called: “WEAPON! WEAPON! “And when I was completely out of my car, a service pistol was only inches from my face. The supervisor, who rode next to this shooting-loving guy, immediately intervened and ordered him to holster his gun, but it did was too late, I shivered trying to control my bladder on the busy street and failed.
I had just finished a bartending shift and had a couple of pens, a bottle opener, and a wine key in my back pocket. Those were the “weapons” that were worth putting a gun in my face.
I kept telling this story for the next several weeks, and my white friends were shocked that I was taken out of the car; like me it was never asked of them. However, my black male friends were shocked that it was the first time I was called out of the car – they had never been asked to get out of their vehicle and struggled to understand a world where they weren’t The norm.
Which brings us to 2021 when four of the original researchers returned for a study called “hHow do routine police encounters build or undermine community trust and how might they contribute to racial differences in citizens’ perceptions of the police? ” Cheerfully called “The Thin Blue Waveform”, the new study does not focus on what the police tell people, but on how they say it.
The scientists point out the value that body-worn cameras can offer beyond their current importance in high profile cases.
The interpersonal dimension of police encounters is as good as invisible in the administrative files. Stop data reports can reveal racial differences in officers‘ Search decisions or sanctioning citizens, but they cannot disclose whetherBecer address the community members with respect or contempt. Interactions that are indistinguishable in administrative data can develop very differently in the experiences of community members and have different consequences for their trust in law enforcement.
Cameras worn on the body give them access to the interpersonal dimensions of these encounters Befirst time. By recording conversations betweenBeCer and citizens can help them uncover how these racial exchanges differ.
In short, bodycams make the relational aspects of policing visible. In this way, in addition to the racial dynamics of such encounters, we can test mechanisms through which police interactions lead to institutional mistrust or trust. Here we are looking at a subtle but socially important communication channel that can only be accessed from BWC recordings: the prosody or the acoustic characteristics of a person.s voice.
The discrepancies weren’t as blatant as the 2017 research, but one trend was undeniable: Police officers talk to black men very differently than they do to white men. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The scientists analyzed hundreds of audio clips – around 10 seconds each – from routine traffic checks of black or white men. The researchers filtered out the high frequencies of the sound clips, which made the clips essentially obscure but left the tone of the voice intact. They also covered the voices of the drivers with “brown noise” so that anyone who hears the clip cannot guess the driver’s race.
The researchers then asked more than 400 people – a diverse group of white, Latin American, Asian, and black volunteers – to listen to the clips and rate the officers’ tone of voice.
Across the board, clips of officers speaking to black men received lower ratings for friendliness, respect, and ease than those of officers speaking to white men – although the audience was unaware of the race of the drivers.
For black Americans, these two studies only confirm what we already know: systemic racism reigns supreme in law enforcement. But for white Americans who discard more easily lived experiences that don’t reflect their own, who constantly demand data when they are unable to believe black people celebrating this era of productive videos because it gives them proof of that giving what they have previously denied, these studies might actually change your mind.
If that research only led law enforcement agencies to tackle the rotten wood at the heart of their creation, we could actually see some improvement on that front.
I haven’t been stopped since I moved to California almost 14 years ago. Not once, in the Golden State or at home. Next time, I’ll still keep my hands on the dashboard, but this time I’ll keep my phone’s video camera on.