Stanford researchers released a study on Monday that revealed Oakland police officers speak differently to Black people than they do to White people during traffic stops. The study used body-camera footage and an analysis of 981 traffic stops made by 245 Oakland officer in April 2014. It discovered that officers address Black people less respectfully, using terms like “bro” or “my man” and instructing them to keep their hands on the wheel. In contrast, White people were met with more terms deemed respectful, such as “sir,” “ma’am,” “please” and “thank you.”
Jennifer Eberhardt is the Stanford professor who co-authored the study. “We found that the officers on average spoke fairly respectfully to people. It was just that they spoke even more respectfully to white community members than they did to black community members,” she said. “No matter how we looked at the data, there was a race gap there.” In general, the study showed that White people were 57 percent more likely to hear an officer say something respectful, while Black people were 61 percent more likely to hear an officer say something deemed extremely disrespectful. The study also showed the race of the officer making the stop “did not contribute a significant effect.”
Oakland police officials have yet to make a public comment on the findings. However, the city cooperated in the study and Stanford researchers said the results could be used as a “rich source of data,” especially for officer training.
Eberhardt led another study, which was published last year, that found Oakland officers were four times as likely to search Black men instead of White men during a traffic or pedestrian stop. However, Eberhardt had different motives for this most recent study. “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,” Eberhardt said. “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.”
You can read more about how the study was conducted here.