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  • Nick Luhring

Studying the Interactions between Youth and Police

Dr. Bill Dietz and Dr. Wendy Ellis (GWU, Milken Institute of Public Health) with ROOT founder Kenny Barnes Sr.

A limited amount of research has been dedicated to the interactions between youth and police, despite the prevalence and the importance of such research. Every time there is an interaction that is less than favorable, it contributes to the tensions in the community. It becomes difficult for the police to do their jobs properly without community buy-in, and especially without the buy-in of the 15-24 year old demographic, as they tend to be involved in a disproportionate amount of crime as both perpetrators and victims.

Knowing this, Reaching Out to Others Together (ROOT) joined forces with George Washington University (GWU) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) to form the Collaborative to Improve Police/Youth through Prevention Science and pursue what we call “The ROOT Causes Project” - a part of the Building Community Resilience (BCR) Initiative. The project was granted Institutional Review Board (IRB) status last November from GWU, and then embarked on a qualitative study of police/youth interactions by facilitating focus groups in Washington, DC. The groups were held between December of 2018 and March of this year. Funding for the project was provided by the DC Rotary Club.

Overall, we found that there is a lot of commonality to the experiences of youth and police and much room for improvement when it comes to communication and education. We believe that improving the understanding of law enforcement’s role in the community is an important undertaking. One way this can be accomplished is with NOBLE’s “Law in your Community” program, which provides education from the police themselves directly to the youth. Such a direct educational environment would likely improve student’s perceptions of police, as well as provide them with the opportunity to give feedback based on their own experiences.

Additionally, several law enforcement officers suggested that things like coaching and mentorship could benefit the kids in the community, and that they would be open to making that happen programmatically. Whether it is a police officer “ride-along” for school credit or a police/youth basketball league, the more positive interactions that occur between the two groups, the more likely that tensions will be reduced, and the community will feel safer. With research like this still being in the opening stages, there is so much more to be done and understood, but we are proud and happy with the results and hope it helps to influence policy in the future.

To read the full report, click here.

It is fascinating how the perceptions and opinions of law enforcement officers helps to create an environment that can be improved through the art of listening. Both sides have valid grievances and suggestions, and if lines of communication remain open and well used, the chances for improvement rise dramatically. The question remains, how will this research be used to drive policy and what improvements can be made to the research methodologies? Answering these is our next step, as we continue to seek an end to the senseless gun violence that is a scourge on our streets.


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Jan 22, 2022

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