How Does Stop-and-Frisk Change Attitudes?

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.”

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  1. Alex B says:

    It makes perfect sense, young people are just forming their sense of identity during their teen years, and if you tell them that they’re criminals, and the law is their enemy, it’s sure to have negative effects.

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    • pawnman says:

      I also wonder if the repeated exposure doesn’t just shape expectations. If you’ve never been stopped by the police before, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. By time three, it’s routine…much easier to keep your composure and “play the game” until you are let go or arrested.

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  2. Yogi says:

    Maybe …. just maybe …. The police are pretty good at picking the bad apples early ?

    Ah, I see that bit about “hidden variables”….

    How about this… Tell 100,000 cops to describe what a “Punk who is upto no good” looks like.

    Then perform some analysis on their responses. The phrase “wears his jeans below his ass” might appear in quite a few of them for instance and I am almost certain that this is one of the many “hidden variables” that the economists failed to account for and which is not perfectly correlated with the others that they did account for.

    The fact is that people get pretty good at this sort of shit over time and their judgment cannot easily be replicated by a model. If it were that easy, HR departments around the world would use statistical models instead of in-person interviews to recruit people. There is no easy way to replicate human judgment.

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    • Ross says:

      Sure there is. They call it Psychometrics and HR loves it 😉

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    • John McKay says:

      This was my thought as well.

      Are these kids being picked for ‘police contact’ because they are up to no good, hanging with kids known to be troublesome, look like they are going to be carrying a weapon or drugs, etc? Even just growing up in a neighborhood rife with crime would result in both meetings with police and a likelihood of ending up in jail.

      Unless this study includes kids meeting officer friendly at their upscale suburban middle school, I don’t think the results say anything meaningful.

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      • Chad says:

        It’s about stop and frisk policy, not meet and greet, but you’ve obviously made up your mind already. If you’d bother to read the article, an argument for stop and frisk is that it reduces chance of future criminal behavior by changing attitudes.

        The study indicates that it correlates with the opposite effect; stop and frisk correlates with increased propensity for crime in youth.

        Think about it, how do you feel about getting searched? Do you like it? Do you like the person searching you? Do you like the organization of the person searching you? I’d be willing to bet few people will say yes to any of those questions, let alone all of them.

        And Yogi: picking bad apples early? Are you serious? Do you still behave as an adult the way you behaved as a kid? Maybe you do, but most people I know do this thing called maturing.

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  3. Joe says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I was once stopped coming out of a tube station by two plain clothes officers, one of whom flashed a badge so quickly as to make it impossible to read.

    After rifling through my pockets (!) and bag, I felt violated, annoyed and distrustful towards the police. I was concerned at the speed at which it happened, and worried that I had no idea who it was.

    At least with a mugger I would *know* I’m in a position to be worried – when it’s the police, I’ve no idea where I’m supposed to be safe.

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    • skh.pcola says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • James says:

        Strangely enough, it’s been my perception that the rightists are well ahead of the leftists in the race to erode rights. Though both are still in the running…

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    • mcra99 says:

      Did you become a crook to get back at the cops?

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  4. James says:

    Of course, as with just about any crime study, the obvious hidden variable is that you can only measure those who’re caught, or when studying attitudes, those who haven’t learned to conceal their real opinions.

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  5. DCDan says:

    If Stop and Frisk started happening to people on Wall Street to check for illegal MP3s on their iPods attitudes would be different.

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  6. David Leppik says:

    I suspect that this is true with the TSA as well.

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  7. Lori says:

    Your presumptions are all wrong. The experience of being sropped is terrifying especially if you are innocent. It evokes anger and indignation. The person is helpless and demoralized. There is no apology when you are released so the sense of violation lingers. ..and often festers. There is a PTSD quality to the aftermath because the encounter lacks justice. If you have no fear of the experience you can’t hope to understand its depth.

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  8. Brandt says:

    “Stop and Frisk” is a breach of civil rights for anyone stopped, regardless of their race. The actions and abuse by the NYPD are filling the very definition of a “Police State” where citizens are under never ending scrutiny in order for cops meet a quota designed to turn profits. You can read much more about our Justice System running amuck and how they’ve violated civil liberties across the country in the name of the almighty dollar at

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