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Police: Handling of Juveniles

Police Handling Of Juveniles: Outcomes

Extant research on police patrol officers repeatedly suggests that officers utilize a variety of actions to handle the citizens and situations with which they are presented (Black, 1980; McIver and Parks; Bayley; Worden; Klinger). An inquiry into police actions with juveniles reveals the same variation; juvenile arrest rates appear to be similar to adult arrest rates, around 15 percent (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al.; Black, 1980; Smith and Visher; Bayley; Worden; Klinger). This leaves, on average, an estimated 85 percent of encounters where no arrest occurs, but in which police utilize their authority in other ways to curb the future misconduct of juveniles.

If police practices with juveniles are at all similar to practices with adults, most police-juvenile interactions are handled informally (Wordes and Bynum). That is not to say, however, that formal courses of action are never taken. Formal police actions might include taking a juvenile into custody, taking a report, referring to a social service agency or juvenile court, giving a citation, or making an arrest (Walker). Previous research indicates that informal courses of action are more common (Piliavin and Briar; Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al.). However, this does not mean that the police do nothing with the majority of juvenile suspects they encounter; this would imply that informal actions taken by the police are insignificant. Rather, the police utilize their authority in other ways: by questioning a juvenile about a particular offense; conducting searches for evidence; negotiating for a particular outcome; asking for information; requesting that a juvenile leave the area or cease disorderly/illegal behavior; or threatening to charge or make an arrest if the problem persists. While these courses of action might be considered informal in nature, as there may be no written record of the chosen outcome, they still represent officers' "use of authority" and they should be considered in discussions of police outcomes in juvenile cases. These actions represent officers' attempts to handle the problem.

Research conducted in 1996 and 1997 through systematic social observation of police officers in the field captured information on police contacts with 604 juvenile suspects (see Worden and Myers). This research reveals that police are much more likely to dispose of their encounters with youth informally. Only 13 percent of juvenile suspects were arrested and 3.6 percent received a formal citation. However, juveniles were likely to be subjected to other forms of police authority. Police investigated juvenile suspects by interrogating or questioning almost half, and searching either the juvenile or the area around the juvenile over a quarter of the time. A small fraction of the juveniles (one tenth) were commanded by police to cease disorderly or illegal behavior, to leave the premises, or to provide information related to some criminal offense. One quarter of the juvenile suspects were threatened to be charged or cited for their wrongdoing. Only 14 percent of these juveniles were outright released without receiving formal or informal sanctions. Most juveniles who encounter the police are not arrested or cited (and are thus not processed into the juvenile justice system), but they are subject to police authority in some other form.

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