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Data can help rebuild police-community relationships, Stanford expert says

Police car lights close up. A group of policemen on the background.

Solely attributing police-community troubles to bias is a “myopic view” of the context in which law enforcement operates, Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt said. (Image credit: Antonprado / Getty Images )

Knowledge is the first step toward bringing police agencies and communities closer together, a Stanford scholar says.

With police shootings and law enforcement officers themselves under attack in recent weeks, Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt said society needs to fully consider the data on how to de-escalate potentially dangerous interactions between police and citizens, especially in African American communities.

Understanding the data will help to lessen police-community tensions and enhance police and citizen safety at the same time, said Eberhardt in an interview. Her research team recently issued an in-depth analysis of police and community issues in the city of Oakland, Calif.

Eberhardt said it is inaccurate to simply attribute recent police shootings to racism and bias. Racial disparities, however, indicate a different type of treatment, sometimes even unintentional or unknowing, but not necessarily one motivated by baser and intentional attitudes like bias or racism.

“When we’re trying to understand what’s going wrong, I feel like people are too quick to look at racial disparity and then try to make it into racial bias,” she said.

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