Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Evaluation of a Program Designed to Promote Positive Police and Youth Interactions

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Evaluation of a Program Designed to Promote Positive Police and Youth Interactions

Article excerpt


Persons under the age of 18 comprise a sizable portion of those arrested in the United States each year, amounting to 12.5% of all arrests in 2010 (Puzzanchera & Kang, 2013). Recently, attention has been drawn to the notably high rate of negative interactions that occur between police officers and youth. Not only do these negative interactions influence the likelihood of arrest, but they may also decrease the likelihood that youth would seek help from police in the future (Friedman, Lurigio, Greenleaf, & Albertson, 2004).

Furthermore, because police serve as the first point of contact between youth and the justice system, the initial interaction between a police officer and youth can influence subsequent interactions within the justice system (Liederbach, 2007), making police officers critical gate keepers. This recognition has led to a line of research examining predictive factors of negative interactions between police and youth. The goal is to understand the processes at work during these interactions and, it is hoped, alter negative patterns of interaction.

One approach, from a prevention perspective, is to alter or improve the negative preconceived opinions and attitudes that youth and police hold about each other. Generally, past experiences influence the attitudes and beliefs an individual holds about a group to which he or she does not belong. Cognitions, or the logic one uses to make sense of an experience, affect the way individuals respond to situations (Bugental & Johnston, 2000; Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1997). According to attribution theory, attributions are the motivations and explanations one applies when interpreting another's behavior (Bugental, Johnston, New, & Silvester, 1998). Attributions, which are partially based upon past experiences, become unconscious and automatic over time. Individuals rely on attributions in their affective and behavioral response in a given situation (Bugental & Johnston, 2000; Bugental et al., 1998).

The link between past experiences and current attitudes plays an important role in understanding police and youth relations (Brick, Taylor, & Esbensen, 2009). When studying police and youth interactions, it is important to consider the attitudes held and attributions made by both the police and youth because both play equal roles in the interaction process and its outcome (Friedman et al., 2004; Jackson, 2002). Although youth and police attitudes and interactions have been the focus of research for many years, little research has focused on prevention programs designed to improve the attitudes of police and youth toward one another. This article presents an evaluation of an initiative that provided funds to seven communities in Connecticut to create pilot programs that provided positive interactions between police and youth in a nonlaw enforcement environment.

Youth Attitudes Toward Police

Prior studies indicate that one primary influence on a youth's attitudes toward police officers is the youth's own past experiences with police officers (e.g. Bradford, Jackson, & Stanko, 2009). Moreover, the nature ofthat contact matters. In general, negative past contacts with police lead to negative attitudes toward police (Flurst, 2007). Not surprisingly, some studies have found that youth who have been arrested or in trouble with the law, a clearly negative outcome, tend to have significantly less favorable attitudes toward police than youth experiencing no contacts, positive contacts, or neutral contacts with them (Brick et al., 2009; Jackson, 2002; Leiber, Nalla, & Farnworth, 1998).

Flowever, interactions that end in arrest are only a small portion of the encounters that occur between police and youth. Adolescents may develop negative attitudes from other negative interactions with police that do not end in legal action. Hurst (2007), for example, found that youth who had a negative, non-arrest experience with police, whether such experience was youth-initiated (e. …

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