In the first systematic analysis of its kind, researchers analyzed transcripts from 981 traffic stops conducted by 245 Oakland Police Department officers in 2014 that were recorded by body camera. They found that white motorists were more likely to be referred to as "sir" or "ma’am" then were black drivers who were pulled over. White drivers were also more likely to hear courtesies such as "please" and "thank you" from law enforcement officials.
Conversely, African-Americans that were pulled over tended to be treated more casually, often being addressed by their first names or things like “my man” and other informal titles.
The study found 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."
"Indeed, we find that white community members are 57 percent more likely to hear an officer say one of the most respectful utterances in our dataset," researchers reported, "whereas black community members are 61 percent more likely to hear an officer say one of the least respectful utterances in our dataset."
They also posited that "This work demonstrates the power of body-camera footage as an important source of data, not just as evidence," noting that their research model can duplicated for other departments and that the data collected can be used for other uses outside of police work.
Researchers clarified that they arrived at their conclusions not based on the camera footage itself but from transcripts of the footage, and said that more could be gleaned from such studies by both watching the video and listening to the audio.
"Studying body-camera footage presents numerous hurdles, including privacy concerns and the raw scale of the data," they wrote. "The computational linguistic models presented here offer a path toward addressing both these concerns, allowing for the analysis of transcribed datasets of any size, and generating reliable ratings of respect automatically."
Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford psychology professor and co-author of the study, told Stanford News, "Our findings highlight that, on the whole, police interactions with black community members are more fraught than their interactions with white community members."