‘Stop and Frisk’ Stirs Up, Rather than Deters, Youth Crime

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Law enforcement reminders of the consequences of criminal behavior are supposed to curb illegal activity, but some of these intimidation strategies may be backfiring, especially among youth.

In the latest study of stop and frisk policies, in which law enforcement randomly stop individuals for questioning even if they aren’t engaged in criminal activity, researchers found that those who were stopped were more likely than those who were not to engage in delinquent behavior later on.

The results, published in the journal Crime and Delinquency, are only the latest among a growing body of data suggesting that some juvenile justice tactics, including programs that rely on the “Scared Straight” harangues by prison inmates, boot camps and juvenile lockups could ultimately do more harm than good.

In the current study, Stephanie Wiley, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri in St. Louis and her colleagues followed some 2,600 students enrolled in a classroom-based gang prevention program in seven cities from 2006 to 2013.  Over the course of that time, some teens were stopped by the police, some stopped and arrested and others were not.

By the end of the study, those who did have police contact early in the trial period reported committing five more delinquent acts on average, ranging from cutting classes to selling drugs and attacking people with a weapon, than those who were not stopped randomly by police. And the students who were arrested for any reason wound up committing around 15 more delinquent acts on average than those who were not. The rates held even after the scientists adjusted for the effect of age, race and previous delinquency that could also affect their odds of being targeted by the police.

“The most important finding was the fact that [police contact] had not only an effect on offending, but also on attitudes and other measures,” says Wiley. Those who were stopped were less likely to report that they would feel guilty if they were to commit future offenses. They also tended to agree with statements that rationalized antisocial behavior.

The results confirmed previous work that connected experiences such as police contacts, arrest and incarceration to stigmatization; these experiences can cement a negative identity that promotes further delinquent behavior.  Police interactions can also lead a teen’s peers, as well as his social circle, to view him more negatively and further channel him away from positive influences.

“The theory is that when you’re publicly labeled as delinquent, you start to take on that role and experience social exclusion,” says Wiley, “You might also become friends with others who are delinquent based on a shared background, values and beliefs.”

Similarly, attempts to reform delinquent children may also backfire, by creating equally defeating situations since they place youth in prisons or other programs where all or nearly all of their peers are at least somewhat deviant — unlike regular schools where they are surrounded by a majority of fellow students who do not engage in antisocial acts.

In one telling study, for example, youth who committed similar offenses and were placed in the juvenile justice system were seven times more likely to be arrested as adults than those who were either not caught or not punished, and those who were incarcerated were 37 times more likely to have adult arrests.  Similar findings have also been reported for some drug treatment and boot camp programs.

MORE: Why Juvenile Detention Makes Kids Worse

What these studies argue for are more positive and productive interactions between young people and law enforcement— rather than the accusatory and punitive attitude that drives them now. “We can’t just go and trash the police,” says Finn-Aage Esbensen, professor of youth crime and violence at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Wiley’s co-author. Police demeanor, he says, can go a long way toward diffusing youthful anti-authority impulses. Respectful treatment can potentially lead kids to see the system as fair, which reduces resistance.

“A lot of it is in the delivery,” says Esbensen, explaining that police who are connected to the community and engaged in positive interactions with youth, such as spear-heading anti-gang programs, are more likely to avoid targeting them unfairly and therefore be more accepted when negative contact is necessary.

MOREStudy: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks

What do these latest results mean for cities like New York, where “stop and frisk” policies led to more than 120,000 stops of black and Latino youth between 14 and 18 in 2011 alone? Statistics from the New York Civil Liberties Union for that year show that 88% of all people stopped were innocent— and the overwhelming majority were minorities. While studies haven’t examined the relationship between stop and frisk policies and crime rates, if, as Wiley’s study suggests, these stops actually undermine respect for the law and increase delinquency, then the city could end up seeing a rise, rather than a drop, in crime rates in the long run.

If that happens, it should prompt a re-evaluation of some of these deterrent strategies, since common sense tactics— even a simple police stop — can have unintended, and undesirable, consequences.

22 comments
quando25
quando25

It would seem that over the  last decade or more the police have become more aggressive and far less friendly compared to days gone by. I feel there is a disconnect between the police and the general public and this is furthered by police aggression.  I feel that our rights are slowly being eroded and this is a real shame... Thank you for the great article.... http://aidyourdentalproblems.wordpress.com/

ChristineCuneo
ChristineCuneo

Stop and search should be no problem if your not doing anything wrong.  The thug like punks will blame any one for there behavior.    "more likely than those who were not to engage in delinquent behavior later on"  They just didn't get caught yet.  Be have and nothing to worry about. 

atiladelmosat
atiladelmosat

El totalmente interesado en la delincuencia sin lugar a ninguna dudas,tomando en cuenta todo lo dicen y hacen,el gobierno de los EE.UU 

BobWilson1
BobWilson1

95%of the stops result in no arrest, something is really wrong here. I guess that's what happens when you stop random people for no real reason.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

First we lose respect for the people wearing the badges, then the organizations that employ and help them destroy our trust in them by treating us as criminals when we are just as law abiding (if not more so) than they, themselves. Then we want to avenge ourselves, our peer and others (Trayvon) who have had their civil liberties  encroached upon, been wrongly treated, spied on and punished (jailed, tortured and killed) WE WILL BE AVENGED!

seeseebutler
seeseebutler

Author writes" "study [shows that] those who did have police contact ... reported committing five more delinquent acts on average, ...." This falls in the "no duh" department. Whose kidding who? These kids were stopped or arrested because they looked suspicious and were more prone to engage in criminal activity in the first place.  Anyone who believes that stop and frisk is turning good kids into criminals is delusional.  This program has cut the murder rate in New York dramatically and saved the lives of tens of thousands of minority youth.

Hermione
Hermione

Hey, I have an idea....

How about law enforcement going after the violent, hardened criminals for a change?  And I agree with @RekkaRiley's earlier comment/reply - we severely punish the wrong people for the wrong reasons.  People busted for pot...well, small amounts of marijuana should be legal, as far as I'm concerned.  Yet there are many prisoners that could be doing community work, and not wasting their lives living in confinement.  This is a huge waste of the taxpayers money, not to mention the fact that our legal system is already overworked and overgrown as is.  Prison should be for the hardened, violent, unrepentant criminals - enough said.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

Kind of makes sense.

"If I'm already being punished for something (by being randomly frisked and therefore publicly humiliated), and everyone thinks I actually did it, no one believes that I'm innocent, so I might as well do something to actually deserve the punishment."

I've actually seen this attitude a lot, especially among younger people that already feel hurt or threatened by people in authority, either privately (by parents or elders) or publicly (police, peer groups, etc.). 

Once you label someone negatively, and start treating them accordingly, people have a tendency to start living down (rather than up) to peoples' expectations.  Especially children and teens, they become convinced that even if they tried to do better, no one would believe it and they wouldn't get credit for it, so why bother?

PeterJamesHerz
PeterJamesHerz

Its unclear were these future perpetrators non-perps before the frisks? Otherwise it simply sounds like cops tend to profile good criminally proclivity appearances.

DREGstudios
DREGstudios

“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 http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-privatized-police-state.html

AblityMouwon
AblityMouwon

Harsh punishment may solve the temporary problem but long term effects will come in a much worse form. This reminds me of the American interrogation methods; this is not to say that you're everyday city cop is as ruthless as these "dark agents of democracy" but the idea is the same. Waterboarding a suspected terrorist do may stop a attack but it will not to terrorism, in fact, the inhumane and undignified treatment of person may motivate a negative response from a group. I blame sociologists and psychologists. I understand these fields of science are young, but we need to know more about the human nature as society. Not conditional tendencies but what is at the core of the human being, can we know anything defensively. The reason police do "stop and frisk" is because they think scaring tactics produce obedience, like a father-son relationship. The social sciences need to hurry up and tell us what really produces social compliance.

williamholder
williamholder

@seeseebutler Of course you're right. The author of this article reflects the poor education most are receiving in this country. Even the most obvious and common sense concepts are beyond most of our citizens.

Tical
Tical

@seeseebutler I wonder how you would define suspicious looking people. Anyway this sentence in the article is telling;

"The rates held even after the scientists adjusted for the effect of age, race and previous delinquency that could also affect their odds of being targeted by the police."

TobyKinnear
TobyKinnear

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seeseebutler
seeseebutler

@RekkaRiley And the left-wing excuse machine rolls on. When I was a rambunctious teenager I was no friend of the cops and they were no friend of mine. Many of them were real jerks. That does not give me an excuse to be a criminal as an adult. People have to take responsibility for their own lives and stop making excuses. Besides, young adult male minorities commit about 96% of the murders in this country. Is it any wonder police focus their attention on them? If young black men do not want to be perceived as criminals, then they should change their behavior.

seeseebutler
seeseebutler

@DREGstudios The Supreme Court has made it clear that stop and frisk does not violate the constitution.This program is responsible for cutting the murder rate in New York City dramatically. Most of those lives saved are minorities by the way.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@AblityMouwon Part of the problem with the current system is that it encourages imprisonment for nearly every crime.

The biggest problem with imprisonment is that it isolates the accused from the direct consequences of their actions.

Now don't get me wrong here, I readily agree that there are plenty of crimes that are so heinous, plenty of criminals that are so anti-social, that they should be locked up and have the key thrown out.  However, it should be reserved for cases where restitution isn't an option, where rehabilitation isn't possible because the guilty party can be proven to be so anti-social that no amount of punishment will deter them from re-offending, and counseling just teaches them to be more manipulative (like sociopaths and serial killers).

But for more minor crimes, especially those involving teens and children, a system that allows for restitution could have a much better outcome by forcing the criminal to view his/her victim as a PERSON that they wronged, and see the direct consequences of their actions.  Don't isolate them from the consequences by locking them up; grab them by the scruff of the neck and rub their nose in the mess and force them to make DIRECT ammends.

This could mean anything from returning stolen property with interest, working to pay off an injured party's medical bills, or in some cases just plain cleaning up after themselves.  

"Do you see now how much damage you did?  It doesn't seem so badass now that you have to actually clean it up, huh?"

No, it won't work on everyone.  There's sociopaths in every group that just don't care what the consequences are.  But, it may have a better chance of deterring the non-sociopaths, especially ones that fell to peer pressure and committed a crime to try and look "cool."

williamholder
williamholder

@Tical @seeseebutler The only thing this tells us is how delusional the author and anyone connected to this study is.

To suggest that unpleasant interaction with law enforcement encourages more of the same is simply retarded, both on the part of those conducting the study and those who would do bad acts and seek further interaction with our legal system.

This is like suggesting someone will actively seek out well patrolled sections of highway to speed on so that they might have repeated interactions with the local troopers, jails, licensing authorities and their insurance company. While someone who regularly speeds may pick up multiple tickets, it's not because they were stopped and ticketed initially at some point in the past.

LogicSpeaks
LogicSpeaks

@seeseebutler @RekkaRiley Reading that good old Fox machine are ye now?  Everyone who doesn't hold your position holds a "left-wing" agenda that makes up excuses for "criminals."  Suddenly you mention black people and murder rate?  Clearly you were already thinking who the criminals were. Black people.

Keep memorizing those talking points.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@seeseebutler @RekkaRiley Where did I make excuses?

Where did I mention race?

What makes you 100% certain that I am "left-wing?"  I'm some random person on the Internet, how can you be certain of ANY of my socio-political leanings?

There are reasons, but not excuses.  There has been proof that when you raise your expectations of young people, and stop telling them that you expect them to fail, they will meet the raised expectations with flying colors.  The reverse is also true:  keep telling someone you expect them to fail no matter what, and eventually they'll give up trying to do better.

Restitution for non-violent youth crime works better than imprisonment at preventing them from re-offending, AND it saves the taxpayers a boatload of money.

For example, with something like vandalism, forcing the perpetrator to clean it all up, preferably on their own dime, forces them to acknowledge the consequences of their actions and forces them to recognize that crime isn't so cool when you're the one cleaning it up.

Imprisonment prevents youths from seeing their victims as actual people that they hurt.  As long as they don't see other human beings as people with thoughts and feelings of their own, they will keep re-offending.

Grantbwallace
Grantbwallace

@seeseebutler @DREGstudios The study featured in this article would indicate that stop and frisk doesn't really work, I mean unless you really want to arrest those kids for having weed. Much more importantly, 'stop and frisk' policies are a breach of civil rights. If you haven't done anything wrong you shouldn't be searched. Just because the Supreme Court sided with the NYPD on this one doesn't make it any less of a violation of the fourth amendment.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@Grantbwallace@seeseebutler@DREGstudios

"Just because the Supreme Court sided with the NYPD on this one doesn't make it any less of a violation of the fourth amendment."

actually, that's exactly what it means. the Supreme Court decides what is and isn't a breach of the Constitution. by determining that this is Constitutionally legal, by definition it's not a breach of the Fourth Amendment. not really that hard of a concept to grasp. you may disagree with it, but disagreeing doesn't make it a violation of your rights