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'War on cops' author: Oakland police bias study 'conjuring disrespect'

The study claims that officers used less respectful language when speaking with black drivers

By PoliceOne Staff

OAKLAND, Calif. — Researchers are now employing cutting-edge tools, algorithms and tests in the “desperate hunt for crippling white racism” in law enforcement, says “War on Cops” author Heather Mac Donald.

Mac Donald recently published a scathing and  lengthy critique of a Stanford study of the Oakland Police Department which received heavy media attention shortly after it was published in June.

The study claims to have found that officers used less respectful language when speaking with black drivers versus other drivers. But Mac Donald argues that the study’s findings are misleading and that researchers were determined to find racism.

Researchers analyzed body camera footage from 981 traffic stops from April 2014 involving 299 white drivers and 682 black drivers. Officers were recorded making a total of 36,738 utterances during the traffic stops.  

After having college students rate the utterances based on respect, linguisticians determined which categories of speech might have generated the students’ ratings and created a sliding scale of respect based on 22 specific categories.

Using a computer algorithm, researchers then determined that white drivers received more respect from police. They also found the officer’s race didn’t matter in the level of respect toward black drivers.  

Mac Donald writes in her analysis published by City Journal that she was surprised by what fell into the “disrespectful” category. She writes that researchers found no cursing or use of derogatory terms. 

Language that fell into the positive scale included apologies, surname use, filled pauses such as “um,” “uh” and “just” and statements that give agency such as “you can” or “you may.” 

The negative scale included asking a question, phrases that ask for agency like “do me a favor” or “may I,” informal titles like “bro” or “man,” first name useage, and “hands on the wheel.” 

Apologies scored at the top of the respect scale and “hands on the wheel” scored at the bottom. Mac Donald notes that there were no categories for swear words or unsoftened commands. 

Among her critiques of the study and its methodology, Mac Donald argues that the study leaves out “critical components of officer-civilian interactions.” 

“If ‘can I see that driver’s license?’ is now deemed racially disrespectful, it’s hard to see how police officers can do their jobs,” Mac Donald argues. 

Read Mac Donald’s full analysis here. 

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