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.”

Alex B

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.


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.


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.


Sure there is. They call it Psychometrics and HR loves it ;)


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.


It is senseless to complain after you and your countrymen voted in the leftists that have eroded your rights to the point of absurdity. Keep on course and expect different results...there's a rich legacy of such things in modern societies.


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...


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.


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

David Leppik

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


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.


“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

Enter your name...

I wonder if it has the same effect on the stopped-and-frisked person's peers and other social contacts.

So you stop and frisk Joe, who maybe was behaving a bit strangely. Fine: that makes Joe more likely to offend in the future.

But what happens to Joe's family and friends? Do they hear about Joe's encounter and then adopt his attitude, or do they hear about his encounter and think, I need to behave especially well to avoid this problem in the future?

I don't know how stop and frisk affects this, but I do know that hearing a friend got a ticket for speeding or rolling through a stop sign results in me thinking "be extra sure not to exceed the speed limit on that street" or "watch out for that intersection".


If anything, this suggests that stop-and-frisk policies simply shuffle criminal activity around, not limit or reduce it.

Stop-and-frisk policies are the most backward and discriminatory policies around. How anyone can defend it is beyond me.


I don't think anyone on either side of the argument is claiming that the people who get stopped are going to like the police. The argument in favor is that the rest of the community is going to respond favorably. That's probably the most important point yet not addressed at all. If I see the police stopping some punk that I know is a troublemaker, uses and maybe sells drugs, etc then I'm likely to respond favorably. If I see them stopping some kid that I know is an A student and volunteers at the local soup kitchen then I'm going to be angry. If I see them take a weapon or drugs off a kid them I'm going to respond favorably whatever my opinion of the kid. How good is the selection of targets in stop and frisk, isn't that the real question?

The effect on the people they stop is of very little importance. An innocent person is going to dislike the officer that stopped them and maybe the police in general but isn't suddenly going to be a criminal. As for the punks and criminals they already hate the police and will hate them more. In neighbourhoods where people are shooting each other I don't think worrying about how much these lost causes dislike the police is exactly top of the agenda.



the missing information: Body language and culture.

I suspect a neatly dressed boy walking down the street will be stopped less often than a hooded boy "with an attitude" who is looking around as if he is searching for someone to mug or a house to break into, and who then doesn't meet eye contact or meets the cops requests with hostility.

So they become more hostile after being stopped? Who wudda thot? Or were they already immersed in a culture of hostility toward law and order, and used the stops to justify their criminal activity?

The missing data: the kids who dress neatly and are polite. Are they stopped and frisked? or are they threatened and beaten up for "acting white" by the deviants in their midst? And where are the "community activists" and pastors who ignore how kids are pressured into deviant behavior for their own protection?


Now what exactly is not neat about wearing a hooded sweatshirt? I left off being a kid some decades back, yet I often wear one when I walk, run, or bike around my rural neighborhood (and have done so for many years).

And as for that "eye contact" thing, where I grew up staring someone in the eyes is a sign of hostility.


Frisk them...tell them they are smart, great, and wonderful...I bet that will get better results! Sheesh....what, after three frisks, these angels give in and say, "I'll fix those goons; I'll become a crook. I'll show them!"

This sounds like an out dated self-esteem study...prisons are full of people who think highly of themselves. Just ask them.