New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy has been the subject of major debates and several lawsuits in recent months. A new paper (gated) by Stephanie A. Wiley and Finn-Aage Esbensen analyzes the relationship between “police contact” and future attitudes and actual criminal acts among children and teens:
Current police policies are based on assumptions that proactive policing strategies will not only deter crime but will also improve police–community relations. Deterrence theorists argue that general and specific deterrence can be achieved through such policing strategies. Labeling proponents, however, maintain that juveniles stopped and/or arrested by the police, rather than be deterred, will actually engage in more delinquency as a result of this contact. Research to date has provided mixed evidence. The current study seeks to inform this debate by examining the effect of being stopped or arrested on subsequent delinquent behavior and attitudes. Relying on three waves of data from a multisite sample of youth, we use propensity score matching to control for preexisting differences among youth who have and have not experienced police contact. Our findings reveal that being stopped or arrested not only increases future delinquency but also amplifies deviant attitudes.
The BPS Research Digest elaborates:
The key finding is that with participants matched for propensity, those who had contact with the police at time two (compared with those who didn’t) said at time three that they’d feel less guilt if they committed various offences from theft to violence; they expressed more agreement with various “neutralisation” scenarios (e.g. it’s OK to lie to keep yourself out of trouble); they were more committed to their deviant peers (e.g. they planned to continue hanging out with friends who’d been arrested); and finally, they said they’d engaged in more offending behaviour, from skipping classes to taking drugs or being violent. This pattern of results differed little whether police contact involved being arrested or merely being stopped.
The researchers caution that their propensity matching may not be perfect and there may be an unobserved variable affecting their findings. They advise that “it is important that youth are not isolated after experiencing police contact, and family members, criminal justice actors, and the community should take steps to ensure that youths’ prosocial bonds are not attenuated following police contact.”