Language from Police Body Camera Footage Shows Racial Disparities in Officer Respect

By Rob VoigtNicholas P. CampVinodkumar PrabhakaranWilliam L. HamiltonRebecca C. HeteyCamilla M. GriffithsDavid JurgensDan JurafskyJennifer L. Eberhardt
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
June2017 Vol. 114 Issue 25 Pages 6521–6526.

Received the Cozzarelli Prize in 2018, a National Academy of Sciences award for the top six papers of the year that best reflect “outstanding scientific excellence and originality.”

Received the Cialdini Award in 2018 from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, for the single best field experiment of the year.

Using footage from body-worn cameras, we analyze the respectfulness of police officer language toward white and black community members during routine traffic stops. We develop computational linguistic methods that extract levels of respect automatically from transcripts, informed by a thin-slicing study of participant ratings of officer utterances. We find 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. Such disparities in common, everyday interactions between police and the communities they serve have important implications for procedural justice and the building of police–community trust.