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Police Encounters with Juvenile Suspects: Explaining the Use of Authority and Provision of Support, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
264 pages
In offering a unique opportunity to examine both official and unofficial police-juvenile contacts and producing empirical evidence on the types of problems juveniles are involved in and the extent to which variation in police outcomes is attributable to officer and situational characteristics, this federally funded dissertation work studies police-juvenile interactions using data collected for the Project on Policing Neighborhoods, a multi-method study of police using systematic social observation of police.
With the recent growing concern over the incidence and seriousness of juvenile offending, renewed interest has been stimulated in the juvenile justice system with particular attention given to how juveniles are processed in and out of the system. Playing the role of gatekeeper, patrol officers play an integral part in determining which juveniles enter the criminal justice system. This dissertation, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, is a study of police-juvenile interactions, focusing on police use of authority toward, and police provision of support and assistance to juveniles encountered by patrol officers while working the street. Utilizing data collected for the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN), this study examined the relationships between the behaviors of authority and support and the attitudes and characteristics of individual officers, as well as situational factors that confront officers when encountering juvenile suspects. The report is divided into eight chapters. Chapter 1 highlights the key elements of the research undertaken. Chapter 2 first discusses police behavior conceptually, identifying how it has been conceived in the literature linking these concepts to the two dimensions of behavior observed. The chapter then reviews how police behavior has been captured and measured in previous research. In the third chapter a detailed discussion of the theoretical framework is presented, specifically a review of the psychological and sociological approaches to explaining police behavior with juveniles, as well as the synthesis of these two approaches. The fourth chapter discusses the data and analytical plan. Chapters 5 through 7 provide the analysis with chapter 5 presenting the descriptive statistics for all of the explanatory and dependent variables. Chapters 6 and 7 present an examination of police authority and support, respectively. Chapter 8 provides and discusses conclusions and directives for future research. The findings confirm what previous studies on police-juvenile interactions had reported. First, police use their authority to formally take juveniles into custody infrequently. Second, police officers are more likely to arrest juvenile suspects when the problem is of a more serious nature and when they have enough evidence for probable cause consideration. Third, when juvenile suspects are verbally or behaviorally disrespectful toward police, the officer is more likely to make an arrest. Lastly, these findings provide additional evidence to the suppositions that police are more likely to arrest juvenile suspects when there is a weapon present at the scene and when the police know the juvenile suspect prior to the current encounter. This research will inform policy makers on the types of problems that juveniles are involved in on a day-to-day basis and will provide insight into how police come to interact with juveniles and how they resolve juvenile problems. Tables, references, and appendices A-E

Date Published: January 1, 2002