Scientists Find Police Officers Use Different Tone of Voice With Black and White Drivers

San Diego Police Department officers make a traffic stop along El Cajon Boulevard. (Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Scientists who analyzed the body camera footage from more than 100 police officers have found a subtle but clear pattern: During traffic stops, officers spoke to Black men in a less respectful and less friendly tone than they did to white men.

This disparity in treatment is not only real, but may help to fuel a cycle of mistrust between police and the Black community, the researchers reported this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Law enforcement experts agreed.

“It really reflects the amount of work that law enforcement needs to continue to do,” said Lt. (Ret) Diane Goldstein, executive director of the nonprofit Law Enforcement Action Partnership. “We have to recognize the problem, we have to acknowledge our c in these types of situations, and we have to acknowledge the role that race plays in the criminal justice system.”

The highly publicized deaths of Black men, women and children at the hands of police in recent years have focused the public’s attention on the deadly consequences of such discrimination, and scientists have been busy quantifying the myriad ways that this disparity in treatment manifests.

A 2019 paper, for example, found that Black men were 2½ times more likely than white men to be killed by police. Additional investigations around the U.S. have found that Black residents suffer a disproportionate share of use-of-force incidents relative to their share of the population.

Much of what’s known about disparities comes from administrative records, such as reports of police stops, said Nicholas Camp, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the new study.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Amina Khan

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