The Influence of Race in Police-Civilian Interactions

A Content Analysis of Videotaped Interactions Taken During Cincinnati Police Traffic Stops

Published in: Journal of Communication, Vol. 58, no. 3, Sep. 2008, p. 530-549

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2008

by Travis L. Dixon, Terry L. Schell, Howard Giles, Kristin L Drogos

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Although the study of police-civilian relations has recently entered the intergroup communication arena, there are no studies of actual interactions between these social categories. In part to rectify that stark omission and guided by communication accommodation theory, 313 randomly sampled video recordings from police cars on traffic stops in Cincinnati, Ohio were content analyzed. The study revealed 3 key differences as a function of the officers' and drivers' races: (a) Black drivers were more likely to experience extensive policing during the stop; (b) the communication quality of White drivers was, on average, more positive than that of the Black drivers; and (c) officers' communication behavior was more positive when the officer and driver were of the same race. These findings are consistent with public opinion data and their implications for theory are discussed.

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