Study Finds Officers Are 'Less Respectful' When Speaking To Black Drivers

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American Psychological Association researchers have published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that details how police officers tend to change their tone when speaking to people of different races. As expected, researchers found that officers speaking to Black men "conveyed less warmth, respect and ease than when they spoke to White men." Furthermore, researchers came to the conclusion that interactions between officers and Black men that lacked warmth and respect often create greater division between marginalized communities and law enforcement.

“Police officers are the human face of the law,” Dr. Nicholas Camp of the University of Michigan stated.

“Cues as subtle as an officer’s tone of voice can shape citizens’ trust in the police as an institution.”

Led by Camp, a team of researchers examined 250 audio clips of officers speaking to male drivers in an unspecified U.S. city. From there, researchers removed the drivers' voices, so that listeners would only hear the cop's diction. Afterward, the highest audio frequencies were removed, "a technique that makes the content of conversation impossible to understand but leaves the officers’ tone of voice intact." Once the audio clips were edited to ensure anonymity, a group of 414 participants listened to the audio clips and assessed the officer's tone. In the end, participants felt that officers were "less friendly, less respectful and less at ease" when speaking to Black drivers as opposed to white motorists.

"The results suggest that these negative interpersonal interactions contribute to a downward cycle in which police officers treat Black drivers with less respect, which then leads Black drivers to interpret subsequent interactions with police in an even more negative light," a press release from the APA reads.

At the end of the study, the APA put together a list of recommendations to improve policing in America. Among the list of ten suggestions, researchers suggested the following: promote community policing, ban chokeholds, involve psychologists in multidisciplinary teams and invest in crisis intervention teams.

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