Psychological distress after police stops includes anxiety, anger and depression, study finds
Teens who are stopped by police are more likely to report greater disengagement from school the next day, and racial and ethnic minority youth reported more invasive police encounters than white youth, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
In the study, 387 teenagers aged 13 to 17 (50% Caucasian, 32% Black, and 18% other ethnic and racial minorities) completed an online daily diary for 35 days. The youths were students from five Pittsburgh public school districts, where district leaders were concerned about referrals to racially disparate juvenile justice courts. Half of the participants attended schools where low-income students were in the majority.
The researchers analyzed more than 13,000 diary entries. Young people who reported being stopped by the police were more likely to report disengaging from school the next day (skipping all or part of class, not staying focused, etc.). Students who were arrested were also more likely to report psychological distress, including anxiety, anger and depression. The research has been published online in developmental psychology.
In just over a month, 9% of young people (34 pupils) have been arrested by the police – including officers assigned to the school – which is a “surprisingly high” number for such a short period, a said lead researcher Juan Del Toro, PhD, research associate at the University of Pittsburgh. The rate of police stops did not vary significantly by racial or ethnic group, but black students and other ethnic and racial minorities reported more intrusive interactions when searched by police.
“Police officers use their own discretion to decide which people to stop and search in their goal to reduce crime,” Del Toro said. “However, many of these practices result in racial disparities in policing and stop-and-frisks.”
Students who reported disengaging from school were no longer likely to be arrested by police the following day, “helping to disprove common stereotypes that only ‘bad kids’ get arrested by police”, Del Toro said.
Young people who reported psychological distress following police stops were more likely to disengage from school the following day. The cumulative negative effects of police stops could have long-term consequences for young people, including lower grades, lower standardized test scores and a lower likelihood of college admission, Del Toro said.
Previous research has found that young people of color are seen as less innocent and more like adult criminals than their white peers, and aggressive policing has been linked to reduced test scores and school attendance for black boys. In New York, black and Latino men between the ages of 14 and 24 make up just 5% of the city’s population, but accounted for 38% of reported police stops in recent years, according to a 2019 report by the New York Civil Liberties. Union. Blacks and Latinos were also more likely to be searched and subjected to force by New York police than whites.
Police officers should receive more training on how to interact with children and teens in a less confrontational way, Del Toro said. There should also be increased funding for community efforts to help local youth feel more empowered and competent in school and in their daily lives.
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