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Encounters Between Police Officers and Youths: The Social Costs of Disrespect

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 27 Issue: 2 Dated: 2004 Pages: 1-26
Date Published
26 pages

This study examined police-juvenile interactions, firsthand and vicarious, with attention to how the juveniles perceived police behavior and how these perceptions affected juveniles' attitudes toward the police and their feelings of safety in their neighborhoods.


A total of 18 Chicago public high schools were selected for the student survey, and between April 5 and May 21, 2000, 891 students completed the questionnaire, which obtained information about each respondent's encounters with the police as well as their observations of other youths' encounters with the police. Most of the juveniles had lived in one neighborhood for most of their lives, and few reported belonging to gangs or thought of themselves as unable to stay out of trouble. Few disliked school, and most were concerned about what their teachers thought of them. The police had stopped 58 percent of the juveniles at least once in the previous year. Most of those stopped (69 percent) had been stopped more than once. Most often (81 percent), youths were congregating in small groups or were talking or hanging out in the street when the police initiated contact. Slightly more than 60 percent of those who had contact with police felt that the police had treated them disrespectfully. The reasons given by police for confronting the youth were looking suspicious, mistaken identity, violation of curfew, or traffic violations. Descriptions of disrespectful police behaviors included yelling and cursing, using disrespectful names, pulling guns and making youth lie face down on the ground, hitting and pushing, and ridiculing and humiliating the youth. Juveniles who perceived that officers had disrespected them or other youths were less likely to trust and respect the police or to perceive that officers were fair or cared about the community. Contrary to previous studies, race was unrelated to juveniles' perceptions of police respect. Police must be trained to be aware that their treatment of juveniles forges attitudes toward the police that can become pervasive among youth and extend into adulthood. 7 tables, 28 references, and appended portion of the questionnaire

Date Published: January 1, 2004