(CNN)A succession of high-profile police shootings and racial tensions swept the United States last summer. One year later, researchers are still trying to better understand the delicate relationship between police and the communities they patrol.
Now, instead of focusing on police use of force, some researchers are turning their attention to use of language.
A new study suggests that police officers in Oakland, California, are more likely to speak to white community members with a higher level of respect than black community members. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, used police body camera footage as data.
More research is needed to determine whether this racial disparity in language occurs in other communities across the United States, but Rob Voigt, lead author of the study, said it’s worth investigating.
“At the very least, this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon,” said Voigt, a doctoral student in the linguistics department at Stanford University.
Voigt added that he and his colleagues were grateful to the Oakland Police Department for allowing them to study the department’s body camera footage.
“We’re also hoping it inspires police departments to consider cooperating with researchers more. And facilitating this kind of analysis of body camera footage will help police departments improve their relationship with the community, and it will give them techniques for better communication,” he said. “When people feel they’re respected by the police, they are more likely to trust the police, they are more likely to cooperate with the police, and so on and so forth. So we have reason to expect that these differences that we find have real-world effects.”
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