Volume 3, Issue 1 • Fall 2013

Table of Contents

Forword

The Impact of Juvenile Mental Health Court on Recidivism Among Youth

Gender-Specific Mental Health Outcomes of a Community-Based Delinquency Intervention

Predicting Recidivism Among Juvenile Delinquents: Comparison of Risk Factors for Male and Female Offenders

Building Connections Between Officers and Baltimore City Youth: Key Components of a Police–Youth Teambuilding Program

Internet-Based Mindfulness Meditation and Self-regulation: A Randomized Trial with Juvenile Justice Involved Youth

Assessing Youth Early in the Juvenile Justice System

A Jury of Your Peers: Recidivism Among Teen Court Participants

Commentary: Place-Based Delinquency Prevention: Issues and Recommendations

Building Connections Between Officers and Baltimore City Youth: Key Components of a Police–Youth Teambuilding Program

Elena T. Broaddus, Kerry E. Scott, Lianne M. Gonsalves, Canada Parrish, Evelyn L. Rhodes, Samuel E. Donovan, and Peter J. Winch Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland

Elena T. Broaddus, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Kerry E. Scott, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Lianne M. Gonsalves, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Canada Parrish, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Evelyn L. Rhodes, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Samuel E. Donovan, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Peter J. Winch, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Elena Broaddus, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21205; E-mail: ebroaddu@jhsph.edu

Keywords: inner-city youth, police, urban neighborhoods, model programs, education

Abstract

Animosity between youth and police officers reduces community–police collaboration and increases the likelihood of future negative encounters. The Baltimore Outward Bound Police Insight Program, a unique 1 day police–youth program, brings officers and middle-school students together for a day of team-building activities. Intergroup Contact Theory (ICT) supports the idea that bringing youth and police together under certain optimal conditions can improve the way members of each group view each other. This paper presents the findings from a qualitative study of the Police Insight Program and uses ICT as a framework to assess how the program facilitates stereotype reduction between officers and youth. Our analysis indicates that the program successfully brings officers and youth together in a situation in which they have equal status, share common goals, must cooperate to succeed, and have the support of authority figures. Additional key program components are the neutral environment, fun and engaging atmosphere, and open discussion of stereotypes. Outcomes observed and reported by participants include reduced stereotyping of the opposite group and a desire for future positive interactions. Our findings suggest that the Police Insight Program model could serve as a steppingstone toward improved relationships between officers and youth in Baltimore and elsewhere.

Introduction

Relationships between police and youth in urban America are often strained (Brunson & Weitzer, 2011; Hurst & Frank, 2000; Lurigio, Greenleaf, & Flexon, 2009). Youth living in lower income areas, adolescent males, and African-American and Latino youth are particularly likely to report negative attitudes toward police, that they have been disrespected by police, and that they have experienced unwarranted and harassing stops and searches (Eith & Durose, 2011; Weitzer & Tuch, 2006). In turn, Engel (2003) describes how citizens from historically marginalized social groups, particularly young minority males, may behave in disrespectful and oppositional ways toward police to “symbolize their perceptions of injustice” (p. 477). There is a widespread lack of training programs to prepare officers to deal appropriately and effectively with youth or to address the underlying causes of disproportionate arrests of minority youth (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2011; Thurau, 2009).

Negative attitudes and interactions between police and youth reduce opportunities for community–police collaboration, which has serious implications for public safety. Police are usually the first—and often the only—representative of the criminal justice system with whom youth interact; these early contacts support the development of stereotypes and inform future interactions between youth and the system (Winfree & Griffiths, 1977). Fagan (2002) describes the law as “the meeting point between citizens and accepted social norms, learned from childhood” (p. 69). When the law is implemented in an unfair manner, which can include uneven application of criminal codes through race-based policing, failure to protect marginalized citizens from crime, and disrespectful treatment by police, disadvantaged groups internalize distrust for authorities and resistance to social regulation and control (Fagan, 2002, 2008).

Positive interactions with police have been found to be predictive of positive attitudes toward the police, while negative interactions have been found to be predictive of negative attitudes (Rusinko, Johnson, & Hornung, 1978). Researchers have noted the tendency of youth to perceive officers as primarily an extension of an oppressive system rather than as individual people (Cooper, 1980; Williams, 1999). Similarly, police officers have been found to make assumptions about young people based on their race, age, dress, and appearance (Fine et al., 2003; Thurau, 2009; Williams, 1999). Researchers have also found evidence that police officers hold unconscious biases against minority youth (Graham & Lowery, 2004) and unconsciously associate African-American male faces with concepts of crime (Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, & Davies, 2004).

In an effort to improve the quality of officer–youth interactions in a city confronting record-breaking rates of violence and youth incarceration (CDC, 2011), the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) partnered with the Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound Center (OB) in 2008 to create the 1-day Police Insight Program (Fenton, 2008). The program runs on a monthly basis and participation in at least one program is required of all BPD officers as part of a mandatory training curriculum. Each Police Insight Program brings together all of the officers who work a given shift from one district (25 to 35 officers) with a roughly equal number of students from a middle school located in that same district. Students participate voluntarily and are invited to take part in the program at the discretion of teachers and school administrators. School staff is encouraged to invite students who span a wide range of academic and behavioral performance levels. The program day consists of small groups of students and officers, usually five of each, working together on a series of games and group challenges led by Outward Bound facilitators at the Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound base. Though the base is within city limits, it is located in a large wooded park that contains several miles of hiking trails, several large open fields, and a climbing wall and other ropes-course elements.

The Police Insight Program’s emphasis on experiential team-building activities, mandatory participation for officers, and 1-day length differentiate it from other police–youth programs described in the literature. Most of these programs are school- or sports-based, or involve supervised recreation or tutoring programs and are voluntary for all participants (Roth et al., 2000). For example, many police departments throughout the country run Police Explorer programs that provide interested youth with the opportunity to learn about police work (Learning for Life, 2013), School Resource Officer programs place officers in schools to both educate students and enforce rules (Canady, Bernard, & Nease, 2012), and Police Athletic Leagues bring officers and youth together for sports and other recreational activities (National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues Inc., 2013). Other programs involve collaboration on service projects within the communities where youth live, or involve going to a camp or participating in a program where officers teach youth police skills (Anderson, Sabatelli, & Trachtenberg, 2007; Thurman, Giacomazzi, & Bogen, 1993). Studies of school- and sports-based youth–police programs indicate that such interventions have the potential to promote positive youth development (Anderson et al., 2007; Clements, 1975; Roth et al., 2000), as well as to reduce violence and discipline infractions within schools (Johnson, 1999; Yale University Child Studies Center, 2003).

Though few descriptions of police–youth programs specifically address a theoretical framework on which the program is based, many seem to draw on the concept of mentorship, which emphasizes the roles of police as advisers and youth as learners and focus primarily on improving and altering the behavior of the juvenile participants. Such programs emphasize longer-term involvement and repeated interactions, but tend not to focus on the specific conditions under which those interactions take place. In contrast, the Police Insight Program aims to break down hierarchies and stereotypical perceptions held by both youth and officers by bringing them together in a unique setting and atmosphere over the course of 1 day.

Theoretical Framework

Allport’s (1954) Intergroup Contact Theory (ICT) provides a theoretical basis for the idea that bringing youth and police officers together under certain optimal conditions may reduce stereotypical ideas that each group holds about the other. Allport specifies that the optimal conditions for improving intergroup relationships are that: (a) the groups share equal status, (b) participants work toward common goals, (c) there is intergroup cooperation, and (d) there is the support of an overarching authority (Allport, 1954). Though it has been critiqued by some as too idealistic (Dixon, Durrheim, & Tredoux, 2005), a meta-analysis of ICT studies supported the concept that intergroup contact under Allport’s ”optimal conditions” is a practical and effective means of improving intergroup relations (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). This meta-analysis also found that the greater the extent to which the contact context incorporates Allport’s optimal contact conditions, the greater the reduction in prejudice between groups.

Contact theory has previously been discussed in relation to police–youth programming (Hopkins, 1994; Hopkins, Hewstone, & Hantzi, 1992; Rabois & Haaga, 2002); however, the authors of these studies focused primarily on the issue of ”generalization,“ referring to whether positive views of individuals were generalized to the group as a whole. No studies of police–youth programs have previously examined the extent to which the programs meet Allport’s optimal contact conditions, or how the presence or absence of these conditions may contribute to outcomes. Given the focus on “contact conditions” in the theoretical literature on improving intergroup attitudes via contact (Bettencourt, Brewer, Croak, & Miller, 1992; Brewer, 1996; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), the conditions created in police–youth programs merit scrutiny.

This paper presents findings from a qualitative study of the Baltimore Outward Bound Police Insight Program. Our primary aims were to identify and describe key program components using Allport’s specifications for optimal contact conditions as a framework, and to examine the ways in which key program components relate to participant-described program outcomes. This program description and analysis can help to inform future interventions targeting police–youth relationships in other urban settings.

Methods

The research team, all public health graduate students, developed the study protocol based on input from Outward Bound administrators and instructors, school representatives, police department program coordinators, and other police department officials. Permission for interviewing officers was obtained from the BPD Public Information Office prior to initiating the study; ethical approval for the entire protocol was obtained from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board.

Observation of Program Days

The research team conducted semiparticipant observation throughout 5 6-hour program days during the autumn of 2011 and winter of 2012. Each program included 20 to 35 students from grades 6 to 8 and a roughly equal number of officers. Detailed participant numbers and demographics for a sample of 2 program days is presented in Table 1. Researchers stayed with one group of officers and students throughout the day, observing all activities and discussions. Researchers used an observation guide and took detailed field notes on topics such as supportive comments or behaviors, signs of boredom or disrespect, and other aspects of group dynamics.

Table 1. Demographics of Outward Bound Police Insight Program Participants (Sample Demographics from 2 of the 5 Program Days Observed)

  Program Participants Age Gender Race/Ethnicity

Program Day
Example One

24 Officers

30s and 40s

20 Male
4 Female

13 African-American
7 White
4 Latino

 

20 Students

6th, 7th, and 8th grade

7 Male
13 Female

All African-American

 

5 Facilitators

20s and 30s

3 Male
2 Female

All White

Program Day
Example Two

28 Officers

30s, 40s and 50s

23 Male
5 Female

9 African-American
14 White
4 Latino
1 Asian

 

33 Students

8th grade

12 Male
21 Female

19 African-American
10 White
3 Latino
1 Asian

 

4 Facilitators

20s and 30s

2 Male
2 Female

All White

In-Depth Interviews

We conducted 27 in-depth interviews with different members of the five major stakeholder groups: students (10); officers (7); OB facilitators (5); Baltimore City Public School staff (3); and BPD Program Coordinators (2). See Table 2 for demographic details of respondents. We used a purposive sampling strategy in an attempt to maximize the range of perspectives accessed when recruiting students and officers. We recruited student participants through collaboration with school staff. We asked the school staff for parental contact information for students who would be able to provide us with a variety of perspectives on the program based on their personalities, backgrounds, and enjoyment of the program day. We then contacted parents to seek consent and, if given, sought assent from each student prior to the interview. We were able to reach the parents of 10 students and all provided consent; we were unable to reach the parents of four other students whom we attempted to contact. Due to privacy protection standards, we did not collect any data on the four students whose parents we were unable to reach; therefore, we are unable to comment on potential differences between them and the 10 students we did interview. Those interviewed displayed a range of attitudes toward the police in general and described a wide variety of perceptions of the program. Furthermore, their different descriptions of their experience with the program and their interactions with the officers seemed to accurately reflect our observations of the larger groups of student participants during the program day—in short, these students did not appear to be significantly more positive about the program or better behaved than their peers.

Table 2. Demographics of the Outward Bound Police Insight Program Stakeholders That Participated in In-Depth Interviews

Interview Participants Age Gender Race/Ethnicity

10 Students

12 to 14

3 Male
7 Female

9 African-American
1 White

7 Officers

20s to 50s

6 Male
1 Female

5 African-American
1 White
1 Latino

5 Facilitators

20s to 40s

3 Male
2 Female

2 African-American
3 White

3 School Staff Members

20s to 50s

1 Male
2 Female

All White

2 BPD Program Coordinators

40s to 50s

2 Male

1 African-American
1 White

We recruited officers for interviews at the end of each of the 2 winter program days by approaching them individually and asking if they would be willing to leave their contact information with us so we could arrange for an interview. We specifically approached officers who, based on our observations, seemed to have a range of experiences and opinions about the program. We approached 13 officers on program days and all of them indicated willingness to give an interview. When we attempted to contact them later by phone, text, or E-mail we received replies from only eight officers. All eight agreed to be interviewed. However, one officer cancelled his interview at the last minute with no specific reason given, leaving us with seven officer interviews. Despite the low response rate, we still believe that we successfully accomplished our purposive sampling strategy; we retained four officers who had specifically been recruited based on their low enthusiasm levels at certain points of the program day and heard a variety of perspectives on the program. It does not appear that the officers willing to be interviewed were more youth-engaged or enthusiastic than the officers who did not respond to our requests. All of the officer participants we interviewed and observed were from the midnight shift in their given district.

We used an exhaustive sampling strategy to recruit OB facilitators, BCPS staff, and BPD program coordinators. This means that we sought interviews with all Outward Bound facilitators within the Baltimore area experienced in working with the Insight Program, as well as all involved BCPS staff and BPD program coordinators. All facilitators and program coordinators responded and were interviewed; however, one of the BCPS staff members declined to be interviewed due to her busy schedule. Student and BCPS staff interviews took place at their school during the day. Interviews with officers, OB facilitators, and BPD program coordinators took place at a location convenient for their participation. Interviews were digitally recorded and then transcribed.

Data Analysis

After reading all transcripts and observation field notes, the research team discussed key themes and concepts, then used these themes to develop a codebook. To identify and eliminate inconsistencies in different researchers’ application of the codebook, all researchers individually applied the codebook to the same two transcripts (one from an officer interview and one from a student interview). After resolving all coding discrepancies that arose, and thus clarifying the appropriate use of each code, the researchers then coded the transcripts of the interviews they had conducted. Field notes from program day observations were not coded but were read carefully and used to inform identification of key concepts in the interview transcripts. Our observation of group discussions of stereotypes and other program day activities enabled us to access comments from and observe the behavior of all participants, not just those with whom we conducted individual interviews. Observations of the changes in officer–student interaction over the course of the day provided critical information when drawing conclusions about the program’s outcomes. After coding was complete, we applied Allport’s (1954) ICT as a tool for analysis by examining whether our findings fit the theory’s contact condition specifications and the outcomes it predicts. This allowed us to develop a deeper theoretical understanding of which program components were most important and how those program components helped produce the outcomes identified. We were also able to generate recommendations for future police–youth programs.

Results

We first present respondent’s perceptions of officer–youth interactions outside the program, which illuminate the challenges facing police–youth relations in Baltimore, in order to contextualize the need for the Police Insight Program. We then present key components of the program using ICT as a framework. Finally, we discuss program outcomes, as described by interviewed participants.

Interactions and Perceptions “On the Street”

During interviews we asked students and officers to describe typical interactions with one another in order to better understand the prior experiences and perceptions that shaped their encounter during the program day. Officers spoke at length about the many barriers they faced to building more positive relationships with youth in the city. Many officers described a “culture” of antipathy and distrust toward officers that is passed down to youth from parents and older siblings. The officers overwhelmingly articulated a perception that many adolescents in Baltimore were “not on the right path.” One explained that youth are “our predators of the street” (Male Officer 7). Another commented that:

Just like the kids see negativity from the police… like locking up and things that aren’t, aren’t positive, you know. They see that and they don’t feel like dealing with it. And, it’s the same for us. We deal with the kids on a difficult basis and, you just like, ah, I don’t feel like dealing with it. (Male Officer 1)

Several officers, youth, and facilitators described a subset of officers who were “jaded” or “angry” and had given up trying to “help”; however, nearly all officers interviewed said they wanted to improve relationships with youth. They expressed frustration that the nature of their work did not allow time or opportunities to socialize positively with young people, as officers are present only in challenging situations.

Only 2 of the 10 student respondents described specific firsthand accounts of interaction with officers, but many had witnessed friends or family members interact negatively with officers, as expressed by this student:

Like when my siblings or someone in my family get in trouble [with the police]. They just, it, it be crazy. [Gets quieter] Just be crazy

Interviewer: Yeah... why do you think that is?

Student: I don’t know... It probably be because they do somethin’ bad. But, it’s family over everything. [Gestures to chest.] (Male Student 3)

Students also often described irritation with police officers for bothering young people unfairly, or failing to help in difficult situations. Several students described this failure on the part of officers to respond when needed as evidence of a lack of “caring” on the part of the officers. Although many students had positive perceptions of a specific officer, frequently one that worked in their school, the vast majority described officers as a group as “mean.” Students referred to officers “abusing their authority,” threatening and yelling at them, and being “mad,” “reckless,” and “ignorant.”

Interaction Conditions Specified by ICT

We now move on to describe the ways in which the Outward Bound Police Insight Program sought to improve relations between the two groups, arranged into sections by ICT conditions—with components not covered by ICT’s specific optimal conditions included in a section at the end of this article. Table 3 describes how the Police Insight Program satisfies Allport’s “optimal” conditions.

Table 3. Description of How the Outward Bound Police Insight Program Met Each of the Optimal Contact Conditions Specified by Allport’s Intergroup Contact Theory

Allport’s Conditions for Optimal Contact How Contact Conditions Were Met at the Outward Bound Police Insight Program

Equal Group Status

  • No police uniforms
  • Clear expectations for respect, listening, and using first names
  • Students take on leadership roles during activities
  • Both groups physically and mentally challenged by climbing activities

Common Goals

  • Group members support each other to achieve goals on climbing wall and ropes course
  • Team-building challenges posed by facilitator

Intergroup Cooperation

  • Student–officer pairs required for some activities
  • Activities tailored to maximize cooperation across groups
  • Debriefs focused on cooperation
  • Participants encouraged to talk and get to know each other

Support of Authority

  • Students encouraged to participate by school staff members
  • Officers required to participate as a component of their training
  • High-ranking police officials present and enthusiastic
  • Facilitators act as overarching authority figures during the program

ICT Optimal Condition #1: Equal Group Status.According to ICT, establishing the conditions under which stereotypes can be addressed and challenged requires creating a sense of equality between the two interacting groups. While there are certain inherently unequal components of officer and youth identity, such as age difference, education level and (for some) race and social class, which cannot be set aside, the Police Insight Program created interaction conditions that were markedly different from the authority role of police on the street. The Police Insight Program promoted an increased sense of equality between the officers and students in a variety of ways. One key feature of the program was that the officers were all out of uniform—instead wearing sneakers, jeans, and jackets just like the students. Facilitators and program coordinators described this as an essential component of the program, because police uniforms create an immediate barrier between officers and youth. As one officer described, “You know, they see this uniform, it’s automatic—they tense up, tense up automatically” (Male Officer 7). Many students described being surprised to find out that all the adults present were officers, and that out of uniform, they appeared “just like regular people” (Female Student 6). When another student was asked during an interview what it would have been like if the officers had worn uniforms, he replied, “I would have automatically knew that they were police officers. And once I knew that, I probably would be less, like, less willing to cooperate with them, because I didn’t know their personalities or anything” (Male Student 4).

Facilitators also established clear expectations at the beginning of the program for respecting each other and calling each other by name, with no titles attached. One officer explained:

When you get to learn a person’s name, it means a lot. You’re not dealing with a police officer, you’re dealing with who I am, and I’m dealing with who that youth is that I’m speaking with… [it] just makes you respect the person more when you refer to them by their name rather than just ”some person.” (Male Officer 5)

Throughout the day, facilitators encouraged students to take on leadership roles, reversing the usual power dynamics between officers and youth. Many of the activities gave students a chance to take charge and give directions. One example was described by an officer:

When we were doing the jump rope thing, the girls took over. The two instructors would turn the rope, and you had to get under without the rope touching you…the fun part was because the students, they were like ”we got this, we got this.“ So they would tell us ”go now, go now!” (Male Officer 6)

The climbing activities on the rock-climbing wall or ropes-course were particularly important because officers and students had to trust and encourage each other to succeed and officers, as well as students, were often initially frightened by these activities. One officer described the following conversation with a student: “One girl told me, she was like, ‘I never knew police officers get scared.’ And I said, ‘What you mean?’ And she said, ‘Girl, cause you scared of heights!’ I said, ‘Well I’m human.’” (Female Officer 2)

ICT Optimal Condition #2: Common Goals. Climbing activities also prompted students and officers to work together toward a common goal. One student’s description of her experience climbing the wall provides a good example of this group support:

So I was real scared. So when I looked down, it looked like a real, real big fall. But then, when they was like, “Go ahead you can do it, it’s okay, we got you,“ and stuff like that, I was okay and I wasn’t all as scared as I was at first. (Female Student 6)

Often officers and students would climb the wall together in pairs. One explained, “There was a police officer, she was afraid of heights. And she was the one that I actually climbed with. If she wouldn’t have told me she was afraid of heights I wouldn’t have gone up. She encouraged me” (Female Student 9).

Though less dramatic than the climbing activities, team-building challenges posed by the facilitator provided groups additional opportunities to strive toward a common goal. For example, one activity required everyone in the group to balance on two planks with one foot on each and hold on to ropes tied to the planks. The group had to use the ropes to raise one board at a time and slide it forward in order to reach a finish line. An officer explained, “That right there, just working with kids we never worked with before, it’s just the small things, like, ‘Alright everybody, on three, we gonna move the right leg! One, two, three!’ So we were coming together and working together.” (Male Officer 4)

ICT Optimal Condition #3: Intergroup Cooperation. Facilitators prompted groups to pay attention to the way they were interacting in order to accomplish their shared goals. Activities emphasized cooperation and were frequently followed by “debrief” discussions, in which groups talked about what had worked well and where they could improve when working together. One student explained:

We had to actually strategize… You have to talk about what you gonna do, in order to make something work. So you can’t like, just yell at each other. You have to like, actually sit and talk about what you’re gonna do, and have a calm conversation. (Female Student 5)

An officer also noted the way the program activities required a certain level of cooperation and interaction:

Most of the games, we had to work together to get it done. Well actually all of ‘em pretty much, to be honest with you. So, that way, [the students] had to deal with us and we had to deal with them. (Male Officer 6)

While we never observed students or officers being overtly disrespectful of one another, failure to listen to each other or communicate effectively (for example yelling, talking over each other) was occasionally evident. In some cases, students were so excited by the activity that they did not take time to collaborate. At other times, officers seemed intent on completing the activity correctly at the expense of involving students. Debriefs provided an opportunity for facilitators to bring these dynamics to the attention of the group and initiate a discussion about what prompted them and how they could be addressed in the future.

Working together during group games and paired activities helped pave the way to casual conversations between officers and students over lunch, and serious discussions later on about police–youth interactions in their communities. One officer described this as an “opening up” process:

[The kids] were a little shy at first but, they opened up. It didn’t take long. I guess the tasks that they had us participating in as a group kinda opened them up. It opened us up also. Because, whether you can believe, I mean, I was a little shy too. (Male Officer 4)

ICT Optimal Condition #4: Support of Authority. For both students and officers, relevant authority figures were present and involved during the Police Insight Program. Students were accompanied by the teachers or other school staff members, who either selected them or encouraged them to participate in the Police Insight Program. All students arrived knowing that the program was sanctioned and supported by their teachers and school staff. Officers were required to participate in the program as part of a department-wide training program, and high-ranking police officials who helped to coordinate the program were always present, enthusiastic, and, as the only police official in uniform at the base, highly visible. In addition, facilitators acted as overarching authority figures for each group of officers and students, managing any problematic behavior from both adults and youth, selecting and setting rules for group activities, and guiding and moderating group discussions. For example, we observed several instances in which officers who demonstrated outward signs of boredom (joking off to the side with other officers and hanging back from activities) were taken aside by facilitators and encouraged to engage more with the students. During these talks, the officers were reminded that they serve as role models for the youth and that their level of enthusiasm would set the tone for the day. After these one-on-one talks, we noticed that the officers became more engaged.

Important Program Components Not Specified by Intergroup Contact Theory

The following three subsections describe components of the Police Insight Program that did not fit within the particular conditions specified by ICT, yet that our findings indicate are important facilitators of success for a police–youth program. Table 4 displays Allport’s specified conditions, key components of the program not covered by Allport’s conditions, and the outcomes that resulted from bringing the two groups of participants together in this program.

Table 4. Table Displaying Contact Conditions Specified by Intergroup Contact Theory (ICT), Important Components of the Police Insight Program That Are Not Specified by ICT, and Participant-Described Program Outcomes

Conditions Specified by ICT Important Program Components Not Specified by ICT Program Outcomes

Equal Group Status

Common Goals

Intergroup Cooperation

Support of Authority

Neutral Environment

Fun and Engaging Atmosphere

Open Discussion of Stereotypes

  • Reduction in stereotyping
  • Positive attitude toward members of the opposite group in the program
  • Positive attitude may not be generalized to opposite group as a whole without follow-up
  • Increased tendency to see each other as people
  • Increased openness to communication
  • Desire for future positive interaction

Non-ICT Condition #1: Neutral Environment. The Police Insight Program’s location outdoors in a large wooded park was described as “neutral ground” by several stakeholders. One facilitator said, “It’s taking both groups out of their comfort zone, both groups out of the environment that they’re used to” (Female OB Facilitator 3). When asked about the police department’s decision to partner with Outward Bound at their base in the park, a BPD program coordinator explained:

There’s no brick, there’s no row homes, there’s no streets. You know, there’s no pavement. It’s grass, it’s woods, it’s trees… There are so many places we could take officers and youth to come together. We could take [youth] to the academy, we could have the officers go to the schools, you know. But you need a separate entity. (Male Program Coordinator 2)

Non-ICT Condition #2: Fun and Engaging Atmosphere. Facilitators and program coordinators emphasized how important fun was for getting officers and students to “buy into” the program. Many officers described being skeptical or unenthusiastic about the program prior to participating, and many students said that they initially expected officers to be strict and severe. During observation we noted that at the beginning of each program day few participants spoke or interacted voluntarily with members of the opposite group: students generally clustered tightly in groups whispering to their friends while most officers stood on the opposite side of the program area, some looking bored or making sarcastic comments about the day to come. However, this initial lack of interest and interaction changed quickly during large-group games that involved running around, yelling silly things, laughing, and generally having a lot of fun. One officer said that when she arrived, “I’m gonna be honest. I did not want to go. It was cold. I was sick… but I think the first little bit of warm-ups had us all like, ‘Oooh yeah, we’re gonna have fun’” (Female Officer 2). Another officer also explained, “You gotta at least fake the fun. You know, you gotta play the game, and, maybe when you’re playing the game you start to actually really open up, and be… genuine” (Male Officer 1). Many students said that they initially expected officers to be strict and severe; however, as they saw the officers having fun they seemed less intimidating, and the students started to feel more comfortable interacting with them.

Non-ICT Condition #3: Open Discussion of Stereotypes. An activity described as very memorable by both students and officers was a group discussion about the stereotypes that existed about both officers and youth. Facilitators usually initiated the conversation toward the end of the day, asking participants for examples of how police and youth stereotypically perceived each other. Then facilitators asked participants to comment about what they thought of these stereotypes and whether they applied to the other group members with whom they had spent the day. Often it turned into a question and answer session, with students asking officers why police acted in certain ways, and officers asking students why youth perceived them in certain ways. Members of both groups had the opportunity to explain things from their perspective. One student explained, “[The officers] learned that each and every one of us is different” (Female Student 7). Another student described the conversation in her group, saying:

They taught us that we should not stereotype. Because like, you think all police officers are not cool and are boring or they’re mean. But we got to know that they are regular people and they’re very fun to be around. (Female Student 8)

Outcomes

Outcomes for Students. Students interviewed said they enjoyed the program and liked the officers in their group. All students said they would recommend the program to a friend, told their classmates that it was fun, and would like to participate again in the future. Many students said they were happily surprised by how nice the officers were, and how different they were compared to the students’ expectations. One student said, “When I looked at them, I thought they was gonna be mean and strict, but they wasn’t. They was real laid back and cool and everything, and fun to talk to” (Female Student 2).

Comments varied regarding how the program influenced students’ view of officers more generally. Some students said they thought the officers must have volunteered to be there and were the ones who wanted to spend time with kids, indicating they thought most officers did not really like children. However, many students made comments indicating their view of all officers had become more complex due to the program. One student said that during the program, “We learned about police officers. We learned that there’s good ones and bad ones. Not just, like, bad and ignorant ones. Also some that can help” (Male Student 4). Many students described seeing officers as more human, and mentioned having a realization that police were actually just “regular people” at some point in the day. Students’ comments also indicated they were less likely to make assumptions or automatically believe stereotypes about what police officers were like. One boy explained, “Now I think, some [officers] are cool, and some not. You just gotta talk to them. See how they is. Like, you can’t just assume somebody because they police, assume their actions because they police” (Male Student 1).

Outcomes for Officers. Most officers we spoke with said that they liked kids and enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with youth in a positive way for a change, rather than being a disciplinarian. Several indicated that the program helped to remind them of the positive “side” of youth. One officer explained:

You get a perspective, especially working this job for a while, and you get a perspective where you say, ”there’s only a few [youth] that’s worth saving.“ And then you look and you say ”naw, that ain’t right.“ You go to a program like that and you see that. (Male Officer 6)

Officers also echoed comments by students about the important realization that the individuals they were interacting with were people, were human, and were not very different from them:

The purpose for [police officers] is to let them know the youth are human, you know, ’cause I don’t think sometimes we look at youth as…individuals. I think we look at them as a whole different monster… Hopefully the officers really got a good opportunity to see what youth are, you know, what they can possibly be, given the right environment and the right people. (Male Officer 7)

Officers also emphasized the need for program follow-up in order for lasting changes in police–youth relationships and attitudes to occur. They noted the difficulty of trying to build relationships with youth during their normal working hours, saying this would conflict with their law enforcement responsibilities. Many expressed a strong desire for more opportunities for positive interaction. When asked what recommendations he had for improving the program, one officer said:

I’d like to know [the kids’] background a little bit more. And maybe do a follow up or something. Just because then you, you start to build a relationship with them, you know. And, a relationship with them, then it might turn into a relationship with their parents. And then with their parents might help you out on dealing with crime in that neighborhood. Or maybe that parent hated the police, you know, and it changed their outlook on police, or you know, maybe that kid at least changed their outlook. (Male Officer 1)

Discussion

Our study results indicate multiple ways that the Outward Bound Police Insight Program creates optimal contact conditions as specified by Allport in his Intergroup Contact Theory (1954): equal status, common goals, cooperation, and support of an overarching authority. Our results also indicate the importance of certain contact conditions created by the program that are not “captured” by the four conditions Allport describes. Program outcomes for officers and youth include positive feelings toward fellow program participants, a more nuanced and less stereotyped view of the opposite group more generally, and a desire for future positive interactions.

We propose that, in addition to creating Allport’s optimal conditions, police–youth programs should also strive to provide (a) a neutral setting distinct from areas where the two groups normally interact, (b) a fun, light-hearted atmosphere, and (c) facilitated communication about stereotypes. Furthermore, a clear theme that emerged from our results regarding post-program outcomes was a need for program follow-up. Establishing optimal contact conditions may create the potential for improved longer term intergroup relations, but require follow-up interactions for that potential to be realized. Therefore, we recommend that police–youth programs also incorporate repeated follow-up that involves students and officers working with the same individuals they met during the program, as well as new individuals. Follow-up intergroup contact may not be as dependent on the need for a neutral setting as the initial interaction. Progressive introduction of the more polarizing settings in which the participants normally interact could help consolidate the benefits of the program by encouraging the participants to carry forward their insights into their everyday environment.

Limitations

The short duration of this study did not allow us to assess long-term program outcomes or effects on actual future police–youth interactions. Furthermore, while its qualitative nature allowed us to gain a detailed understanding of the experience of the officers and students that we observed and interviewed, further research in other settings is needed to understand police–youth relationships in other contexts. These research objectives are worthy topics for future studies utilizing mixed-method designs over a longer time frame. Also, as mentioned in the methodology section, we were able to interview only those students whose parents were accessible by phone, and only those officers who indicated they had time available for interviews. These selection criteria may have limited the range of perspectives that we were able to access. Nonetheless, we still interviewed a diverse group of students and officers who presented varying opinions of the program and did not appear to be an especially positive or pro–Outward Bound subpopulation. Our direct program observation also allowed us to overcome this limitation to some extent, as we were able to observe the reactions and comments of all participants, not only those we later interviewed.

Conclusion

Our findings indicate the importance of creating specific conditions when bringing officers and youth together in an effort to reduce stereotypes and improve relationships. The self-reported positive participant outcomes that we documented justify further investment in research to examine program outcomes using rigorous quantitative evaluation methods, as well as longitudinal qualitative follow-up regarding how changes in perspective and stereotyping alter the quality of future encounters between officers and youth. Although we were not able to assess long-term outcomes, our findings suggest that programs following the Police Insight Program model, if paired with further follow-up, could serve as a steppingstone toward improved relationships between officers and youth “on the streets.”

About the Authors

Elena T. Broaddus, MSPH, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing.

Kerry E. Scott, MSc, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing. Currently, Ms. Scott is a PhD candidate in international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Lianne M. Gonsalves, MSPH, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing.

Canada Parrish, MSPH, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing. Currently, Ms. Parrish is project coordinator at Afia Clinics International, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Evelyn L. Rhodes, MSPH, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing.

Samuel E. Donovan, MSPH, was a student in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of this writing. Currently, Mr. Donovan is a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Peter John Winch, MD, MPH, is professor and director, Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Associate Chair, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

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