Are kids engaging in delinquent behavior getting stopped by police, do police stops have a labeling effect and influence youth to engage in delinquent behavior, or both? Because proactive policing – police sending officers to areas where they suspect crime is likely happening when it may not – has become common practice in the United States, I was curious on the consequences of these practices on boys of color living in these neighborhoods.
One of the major lessons that I learned from my doctoral mentor, Prof. Diane Hughes, was that statistics can bias what you learn and know to be “true” in your data. Anyone can estimate an analytic model that confirms their hypotheses, but only a few scholars estimate an analytic model that tests two competing hypotheses. Thus, I sought to apply this lesson to answer a controversial question of adolescent criminality: Are kids engaging in delinquent behavior getting stopped by police, do police stops have a labeling effect and influence youth to engage in delinquent behavior, or both?
Using longitudinal survey data from Black, Latino, and multi-racial high school boys, my coauthors and I found evidence that police stops predicted engagement in delinquent behavior six and 12 months later, but their delinquent behavior did not predict their contact with police six and 12 months later. Furthermore, we found that boys’ psychological distress partially mediated this relation; boys reported greater psychological distress six months following being stopped by police, and this distress in turn predicted greater engagement in delinquent behavior six months later. Neither their distress or delinquent behavior predicted subsequent police contact, suggesting that boys’ maladjustment did not influence their likelihood of getting stopped by police. Importantly, boys who engaged in less or no delinquent behavior were just as likely to get stopped by police as boys who engaged in more or a lot of delinquent behavior
For many Black, Latino, and other multi-racial teenage boys in the United States, police stops are pervasive, unwarranted, and invasive. Through the use of longitudinal data, my coauthors and I have a better picture of how police contact may negatively influence Black, Latino, and multi-racial boys’ psychological well-being and law-abiding behaviors months later. I hope this study informs policy that reduces the discrimination experiences, including institutional forms from law enforcement, in ethnic-racial minority youths’ lives.
Citation: Del Toro, J., Lloyd, T., Buchanan, K. S., Robins, S. J., Bencharit, L. Z., Smiedt, M. G., . . . Goff, P. A. (2019). The criminogenic and psychological effects of police stops on adolescent black and Latino boys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201808976. doi:10.1073/pnas.1808976116
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