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Police: Handling of Juveniles

Police-juvenile Interactions

As Walker (1992) notes, juveniles represent a special set of problems for the police. First, police have more contact with juveniles, who are hanging out on the streets, and this might cause some anxiety for other citizens in the area. Second, juveniles have more negative attitudes toward the police, possibly because of their increased contacts with police (Walker, 1992).

Police interact with juveniles in many ways. Street level patrol officers interact with many youth who are suspects and victims, only a fraction of whom are formally processed into the juvenile justice system. These interactions occur either as police respond to dispatched calls for police service or as police initiate encounters with youth, who may or may not be involved in mischief, during the work day. Although many police departments have specialized juvenile units or bureaus to handle juveniles, these officers usually do not play a role in juvenile justice until a patrol officer decides to formally process a youth (this only occurs approximately 15% of the time) or refers an incident report involving a youth to the juvenile unit. Juvenile specialists usually do not respond to calls for police service that involve juveniles and they are not involved in most police-juvenile interactions.

Research on police-juvenile interactions conducted in the 1960s and 1970s reported that twothirds to three-quarters of the encounters were more likely than not the result of a complainant's request for police assistance and that police initiated only a small fraction of their encounters with youth (see Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al.). Research undertaken in the late 1990s suggests that police were initiating about half of their encounters with juveniles (Worden and Myers). This is in line with what we might expect from contemporary police officers working in the community policing era, where they are expected to pay greater attention to the less serious quality-of-life offenses, in which juveniles are likely to be involved. Other police interactions with juveniles are the result of a citizen's request—either by calling the department and requesting service or by flagging down an officer who happens to be in the neighborhood.

These interactions tend to be of a minor legal nature (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al.; Worden and Myers). They rarely involve serious, personal offenses and more likely the encounters involve public disorder offenses, nonviolent offenses, or suspicious circumstances that do not require any formal action be taken by the police. Evidence from the 1990s reveals that police encounters with youth typically involve only one juvenile and usually there is not a victim or complainant present during the encounter. When a victim is present, they rarely request that the police arrest the juvenile—they are more likely to request other police actions (not to arrest, to warn, and the like). Further, police generally do not have any prior knowledge of the youth with whom they interact, and as a result they must make decisions with the limited information available (see Worden and Myers).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: Handling of Juveniles - Historical Overview And Organizational Structure, Legal Rights Of Juveniles, Police-juvenile Interactions, Police Handling Of Juveniles: Outcomes