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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

one of the few studies

one of the few studies of black citizens' perceptions of police behavior, with data from interviews, focus groups, and observations, Conley (1994) found that citizens consider police behavior to be among the most important sources of racial disparity. Police often accuse black youth of theft when they have purchased clothing. They often seem to seek to frighten youth, thereby generating behavior among adolescents designed to show their peers that they are not cowards. The police are also believed to be unfair in their designations of the crimes for which they arrest adolescents, counting similar behavior as more serious when carried out by blacks. A variety of studies have sought to document police bias in their encounters with juveniles. Results have been mixed and conclusions inconsistent, perhaps because of variations over time and in location. Some of the earliest studies reported disparities in the treatment of white and black suspects, to the disadvantage of the latter. These disparities were attributed to factors other than race itself, such as to the more frequently disrespectful demeanor of black (or other minority) suspects (Black, 1971), or to the more frequently proarrest preferences of black complainants (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al., 1978). In a reanalysis of his earlier work, Black (1980:107-108) reconsidered his earlier conclusion about racial bias, finding that black offenders were more likely to be treated in a punitive fashion by the police even though they were not more likely to be arrested. In subsequent analyses, Smith and Visher (1981) and Mastrofski et al. (1995) showed that race had an effect on police behavior, independent of other factors. Research has not consistently shown that minorities are treated more harshly than whites in terms of arrest (Mastrofski et al., 1995) or the use of force (Friedrich, 1980). Smith and colleagues (1984) found that the effect of citizens' race on police arrest decisions was contingent on other factors. In police encounters with suspects only (and no victims), white and black men were (with other factors held constant) at equal risk of arrest, while white women were at much lower risk than black women. Furthermore, in encounters involving both suspects and victims, police were more likely to arrest if the victim was white and the crime was a property offense. While the police were more likely to comply with the preference of a white victim for arrest, the race of the suspect had no effect. Again, to illustrate the complexity of studying this problem, Mastrofski et al. (1995) failed to replicate these findings in a subsequent study. The two most widely cited analyses of police encounters with juveniles (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al., 1978) were based on data collected for large-scale observational studies in 1966 and 1970, respectively. Since that time, the implementation of the due-process revolution and changes in the composition of police forces (better educated and more diverse) have altered the context of policing and, perhaps, the attitudes and values that police officers bring to their work. With the advent of community policing, police act more frequently on their own initiative. This is especially so in their handling of less serious, so-called quality-of-lif e offenses. Under these circumstances, police might initiate more encounters with juveniles, and one might expect a relatively large proportion of cases of Page 60 of 114

minor legal gravity. In addition, in an era of community policing, law enforcement officers may use a wide repertoire of responses with correspondingly greater chances of biased decision making. The Project on Policing Neighborhoods, described in Chapter 5, involved systematic social observations of patrol officers in the field by trained observers who accompanied officers during their entire work shifts (Worden and Myers, 1999). Worden and Myers reported that 62 percent of the juvenile suspects encountered by police were minority, and 95 percent of these were black. Most were males and most appeared to be of lower socioeconomic status. According to these reports, few of the youth showed any indication of alcohol or other drug use, and few were found to have a weapon in their possession. Minority suspects were 43 percent more likely to be arrested than white suspects (13 versus 9 percent) and twice as likely to be judged as having shown disrespect (14 versus 7 percent). Table 6-3 shows analyses from Worden and Myers (1999) predicting the arrest of juvenile suspects. In the first analysis, all of the police encounters with juveniles were included (n = 612). For the total encounters, being a minority was not a significant predictor of arrest, although being a male suspect, the seriousness of the crime, the amount of evidence, and the level of disrespect shown to the police were significant predictors of the odds of being arrested. The second set of figures in Table 6-3 shows a similar analysis for only those encounters that were officer initiated (n = 319). In contrast to the previous analyses, in officer-initiated cases, in which there is considerable police discretion, the minority status of the juvenile was a significant predictor of arrest. When the seriousness of the crime and the presence of evidence were taken into account, the effect of minority status was no longer statistically significant, although the odds of being arrested remained twice as high for minority juveniles compared with white juveniles. Observational studies of police behavior have typically examined police actions in specific cities. Bachman (1996), however, used the national data collected for NCVS from 1987 to 1992 in order to address issues regarding the role of race in initial police responses to robbery and aggravated assault. Analyses focused only on crimes for which there were single offenders, thus eliminating 36 percent of the robberies and 16 percent of the aggravated assaults. A total of 52 percent of the remaining robberies and 54 percent of the assaults by single offenders were reported to police. Police responded more quickly to crimes committed by blacks with white victims than to white on white or black on black or white on black crimes. In addition, police put more effort into obtaining evidence for black on white crimes. Thus, blacks would have been more likely to be arrested and subsequently convicted, given that whites and blacks committed the same crime. Police also exercise discretion in deciding what charges to make for particular crime events. Using data from the National Youth Survey sample of 11- to 17-year-olds, Page 61 of 114

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