Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect



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.


Findings from three studies are reported: Study 1: Perceptions of Officer Treatment from Language (see Figure 1 for findings); Study 2: Lingusitic Correlates of Respect (Fig. 2 and 3); Study 3: Racial Differences in Respect (Figure 4 shows findings).


Police officers speak significantly less respectfully to black than to white community members in everyday traffic stops, even after controlling for officer race, infraction severity, stop location, and stop outcome. This paper presents a systematic analysis of officer body-worn camera footage, using computational linguistic techniques to automatically measure the respect level that officers display to community members. This work demonstrates that body camera footage can be used as a rich source of data rather than merely archival evidence, and paves the way for developing powerful language-based tools for studying and potentially improving police–community relations.


The model  developed (study 3) may not capture potential effects of racial homophily. Might officers communicate more respect towards community members of their own race (white officers with white community members, for example, or black officers with black community members)?

  1. 5 Figures that are also available as downloadable PPT slides;
  2. List of Semantically Related Articles;
  3. Supporting Information (Supplementary Material for “Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect”) - of special importance here is section 3.7 (under Study 2) which states: Specifically, we show that a simple classifier trained only on officer language is able to predict the race of the community member to whom an utterance was directed at much higher than chance performance. In this section we briefly describe that model.


Communications Justice


Rob Voigt
Nicholas P. Camp
Vinodkumar Prabhakaran
William L. Hamilton
Rebecca C. Hetey
Camilla M. Griffiths
David Jurgens
Dan Jurafsky


Jennifer L. Eberhardt




June 2017






Oakland, California

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Rob Voigt et al., “Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect,” Anti-Racism Digital Library, accessed July 4, 2022,