Improving Officer-Community Interactions

Scientific American reporter Marla Broadfoot spoke with the University of Michigan social psychologist Nicholas Camp about how police departments can improve officer-community interactions. Footage of Tyre Nichols’ death after being beaten by five Memphis police officers during a traffic stop in January, has highlighted researchers’ findings that police brutality is fueled by deeply ingrained racial biases. Camp found evidence that police officers use less respectful language with Black drivers than white drivers and show aggression even after controlling for other aspects of their interactions such as location or driver characteristics. Camp believes these disparities are due to implicit bias against Black people and racism embedded in police culture. While diversifying the force may help reduce use of force, research has shown that one’s identity as a police officer can still be more powerful than their identity as a person from an affected group. 

Traffic stops are one of the most common ways in which people come into contact with the criminal justice system, and efforts to reduce bias within police departments have been implemented in order to improve the fairness of these interactions. Among them are changes such as checkboxes for officers to use when engaging suspects and time-based frictions that limit the influence of implicit bias on decisions. Although eliminating inequality from policing would be a difficult feat, changing policies and structures can help mitigate these biases says Camp.

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