Volume 4, Issue 1 • Winter 2015

Table of Contents

Foreword

Modifying Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Incarcerated Female Youth: A Pilot Study

The Impact of Child Protective Service History on Reoffending in a New Mexico Juvenile Justice Population

Social Distance Between Minority Youth and the Police:
An Exploratory Analysis of the TAPS Academy

Rural Youth Crime: A Reexamination of Social Disorganization Theory’s Applicability to Rural Areas

How to Help Me Get Out of a Gang: Youth Recommendations to Family, School, Community, and Law Enforcement Systems

Exploratory Research Commentary:
How Do Parents and Guardians of Adolescents in the Juvenile Justice System Handle Adolescent Sexual Health?

Social Distance Between Minority Youth and the Police:
An Exploratory Analysis of the TAPS Academy

Chenelle A. Jones, Department of Criminal Justice, Ohio Dominican University; Everette B. Penn, Department of Criminology, University of Houston-Clear Lake; Shannon Davenport, Department of Criminology, University of Houston-Clear Lake.

This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number 2011-CK-WK-K009 Awarded by the Office of Community Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chenelle A. Jones, Department of Criminal Justice, Ohio Dominican University, 1216 Sunbury Road, Columbus, OH 43219. E-mail: jonesc12@ohiodominican.edu

Keywords: TAPS, police mentors, social distance, youth, evaluation

Abstract

Research has consistently shown that minority youth harbor more negative feelings toward the criminal justice system and are more likely to express negative perceptions of the police than non-minority youth. These negative perceptions are often the result of weak social bonds that reflect great social distance between minority youth and the police. In order to reduce social distance between minority youth and the police, the Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy was established in 2011. This study explores the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy. Pre-test and post-test data measuring social distance were collected from a group of Hispanic/Latino and African American youth engaged in the TAPS Academy. Results from the study provide support for the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy in reducing social distance between minority youth and the police. Important implications and directions for future research are also discussed.

Introduction

There is an extensive literature on public attitudes toward the criminal justice system, perceptions of the police, and police legitimacy (Cochran & Warren, 2012; Reitzel & Piquero, 2006; Leiber, Nalla, & Farnworth, 1998; Roberts & Stalans, 1997; Frank, Brandl, Cullen, and Stichman, 1996; Worrall, 1999). Much of the research has focused on adults and non-minority populations (Weitzer & Brunson, 2009). The research that has focused on youth and minority populations reveal that youth are more likely than adults to have confrontational encounters with police, and that minority youth are more likely than non-minority youth to have negative experiences with the police (Cochran & Warren, 2012; Hurst & Frank, 2000; Weitzer & Brunson, 2009). These experiences often stem from minority populations experiencing differential treatment (i.e., increased racial profiling, disparate treatment, and institutionalized racism) as a result of racial discrimination. Unfortunately, the cumulative effects of these negative experiences lead youth, particularly minority youth, to have more negative opinions of the police, question police legitimacy, and have a more critical view of the fairness of police organizations (Leiber et. al, 1998; Smith & Holmes, 2003; Taylor, Turner, Esbensen, & Winfree, 2001; Engel, 2005).

In order to address negative opinions, issues of police legitimacy, and questions of fairness, community policing has been adopted by many law enforcement agencies to proactively improve police/citizen relations and address issues of community crime (Bureau of Justice Assistance [BJA], 1994; Black & Kari, 2010). Through strategic planning, community policing fosters systematic partnerships with community organizations and individuals to increase trust and respect for the police (BJA, 1994). These partnerships are often facilitated through mentoring programs that address strained relationships between minority youth and the police. Although there is a need for more research on the effects of police as mentors, the existing research has found using police as mentors has proven effective at improving minority youths’ respect and trust for police officers (Arter, 2006; Lumpkin & Penn, 2013). Such research has set the framework for the current study, which is an evaluation of the TAPS Academy’s effectiveness on reducing social distance between police and minority youth. In an attempt to improve the relationship between at-risk minority youth and the police, the TAPS Academy was created. The purpose of the Academy serves to reduce social distance between police and at-risk youth.

Social distance between minority youth and the police has been explored in the literature (Braithwaite, 2003; Braithwaite, 2010; Murphy & Cherney, 2012). Murphy & Cherney (2012) referred to social distance as “the degree to which individuals or groups have positive feelings for other individuals, institutions, or their legal systems” (p. 184). Social distance is used to examine the social bonds between individuals in positions of authority and those they govern. Research has indicated there are several ways individuals tend to position themselves around those in authority, and this strategic arranging is known as motivational posturing (Murphy & Cherney, 2012). Motivational posturing includes commitment, resistance, and disengagement. Committed individuals place the least social distance between themselves and authority figures. Resistant individuals place a moderate amount of social distance between themselves and authority figures. Disengaged individuals completely refrain from interacting with authority figures (Murphy & Cherney, 2012).

Murphy & Cherney (2012) adopted the concept of social distance and used it within a policing context to examine police/adult relationships. Expanding on Murphy & Cherney’s (2012) use of social distance, our study focuses on social distance within a policing context to examine relationships between police and minority youth. We measure social distance by examining the extent to which minority youth like, feel connected to, trust, and respect the police. The goal of this study is to (a) examine the degree to which minority youth have positive feelings for the police and (b) determine whether the TAPS Academy is an effective program for reducing social distance between police and minority youth.

TAPS Academy Implementation

While funded through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, the 11-week TAPS Academy program was implemented through the Houston Police Department (HPD) in Houston, Texas. The TAPS Academy paired police mentors with at-risk youth placed in juvenile detention, alternative schools, and or other restrictive settings.

Through classes convening once a week, officer-youth groups with a ratio of 1 officer to 5 youth discussed topics ranging from drug prevention to bullying and gang violence. The TAPS Academy day was divided into the following three sessions: (a) subject presentation session, (b) small group session, and (c) reflection session. During the subject presentation session, subject matter experts facilitated an interactive dialogue with youth on the topic of the day using videos, group activities, and discussions. After the subject was presented, youth moved to small groups where they engaged in intimate mentor/mentee dialogues with police officer mentors about the topic of the day. In these small group sessions, mentors and mentees engaged in more intimate conversations about the day’s presentation. They developed lasting bonds by establishing rapport, learning from each other, communicating to dismantle negative beliefs, and bridging the gap between them. Officer mentors employed active learning techniques to teach youth appropriate responses and effective skills for avoiding criminal activity. The reflective session ended the TAPS Academy day. During the session, small groups reported to the larger group the results of their discussion. In many instances the small group reports revealed how bonds and rapport were established, the learning that took place, and how effective communication was used to dismantle negative beliefs in order to bridge the gap between youth and officers. Upon completion of the 11-week program, youth participated in a graduation ceremony where they were provided with a certificate of completion for participating in the program.

Unlike other police/youth programs, preliminary evaluations revealed the TAPS Academy to be effective at reducing social distance between police and minority youth at risk. Previous programs, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.), were also designed to confront issues between the police and youth. However, research has shown those programs to be ineffective in reducing at-risk behaviors among youth (Anderson, Sabatelli, & Trachtenberg, 2007; West & O’Neal, 2004; and Lynam et al., 1999). Furthermore, there is a gap in the research on the effects of these programs on different racial youth groups. With that in mind, the current study seeks to explore the effects of the TAPS Academy on Hispanic/Latino and African American youth.

Theoretical Framework

This research is grounded in Hirschi’s (1969) social control/social bond theory. The development of social bonds (through mechanisms such as mentoring) can be used to decrease social distance. The purpose of the theory is to explain why individuals conform to moral and socially acceptable behavior rather than deviate. Hirschi (1969) posits that conformity results from integration into prosocial groups and a personal internalization of social norms and values. In other words, bonds form between individuals and their societies that prevent them from engaging in deviant activities. These bonds include attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment involves positive connections between individuals and significant others (family, friends, mentors) and purports that deviant behavior would damage these relationships. Commitment involves engaging in conventional activities and establishing positive goals that will constrain deviant behavior. Involvement includes the time and energy invested in conventional activities, which then limits opportunities for engaging in deviant behavior. Finally, belief involves the personal internalization of social norms and values.

Social control/social bond theory suggests that the stronger an individual’s social bonds, the lower the likelihood of deviant behavior. The weaker an individual’s social bonds, the greater the likelihood of deviant behavior. Research has provided support for social control theory by finding a negative relationship between social bonds and delinquency (Li, 2004; Longshore, Chang, Hsieh, & Messina, 2005). The current study explores mentoring as a mechanism for reducing social distance through the development of social bonds between at-risk youth and the police. Although several studies have explored the effectiveness of mentoring programs with at-risk youth (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Allesandri, 2002; Ford, 2012; Li, 2004; Longshore, et al. 2005), few studies have explored the benefits of mentoring, or using police as mentors, for improving negative perceptions of the police among minority youth. Furthermore, this study bridges this gap in the research by bringing at-risk youth and police together through the TAPS Academy. Officers serve as mentors to strengthen the social bonds between them and the youth engaged in the program. We hypothesized that through this collective relationship, youth perceptions of the police would improve, thus reducing social distance between youth and the police.

Literature Review

Public perceptions of the police have historically served as a source of scholarly inquiry for criminal justice researchers (Weitzer & Tuch, 1999; Brunson, 2007; Cochran & Warren, 2012). The existing literature has consistently shown differing views of the police by different racial and ethnic populations (Cochran & Warren, 2012). Traditionally, minority groups have held more negative views and perceptions of the police than non-minority groups (Smith & Holmes, 2003; Taylor et. al, 2001; Engel 2005). Moreover, minority youth tend to express more negative feelings toward the police than non-minority youth (Leiber et al., 1998). Consistently, young minorities report the least “trust” of the police (Barlow & Barlow, 2002). Brunson (2007) states “one of the most reliable findings in research on attitudes toward the police is that citizen distrust is more widespread among African-Americans than whites” (p. 73). These feelings developed out of negative (involuntary and voluntary) police contacts (Huebner, Shaefer, & Bynum, 2004). In addition, when such contact occurs it is shared with family and friends in order to lighten the burden, because regular channels for safe disclosure are thought to be blocked or not an option (Huebner, Schafer, & Bynum, 2004). These shared experiences contribute to feelings of anguish and anger toward the police in the extended group (Brunson, 2007). Thus, others who may not have had any personal contact with the police within the group vicariously experience negative treatment through relatives and friends. These vicarious experiences have the potential to contribute to increased levels of hostility and distrust of the police (Brunson, 2007; Feagin & Sikes, 1994).

Although several explanations have been offered to account for differing perceptions of the police, many scholars argue that negative perceptions of the police among minority groups stem from adverse police encounters and cumulative disadvantages experienced by minority populations throughout the many phases of the criminal and/or juvenile justice system (Cochran & Warren, 2012). Some argue that the distrust of law enforcement by minorities in general and minority youth in particular may have its origins in slave patrols—that is, organized groups that policed slaves during the antebellum period (Gabbidon & Greene, 2009)—or in the enforcement of unjust laws, such as monitoring and restricting black citizens’ movements (Bass, 2001). Throughout history, the distance between minority communities and the police continued via practices such as being watched and detained (Browning, Cullin, Cao, Kopache, & Stevenson, 1994); irrelevant stops (Mastrofski, Reisig, & McCluskey, 2002); unlawful arrests (Smith & Visher, 1981); use of unwarranted physical and deadly force (Jacobs & O’Brien, 1998); officer misconduct (Kane, 2002); and slower response times as well as fewer police services in minority communities (Anderson, 1990).

In addition, scholars have begun to further explore issues of racial profiling to understand its relationship with public perceptions of the police (Reitzel & Piquero, 2006; Weitzer & Tuch, 2002; Cochran & Warren, 2012). According to Weitzer & Tuch (2002), racial profiling refers to a police officer’s decision to stop and interrogate a citizen based primarily on the citizen’s race. However, African American and Hispanic/Latino populations have become the prime targets of racial profiling (Weitzer & Tuch, 2002). Khoury (2009) suggests that racial profiling increases the visibility of African Americans and serves as an attempt to remind them of their “place.” As such, negative perceptions of the police and issues concerning police legitimacy have emerged across African American and Hispanic/Latino communities (Engel, 2005; Cochran & Warren, 2012). Specifically, greater expression of negative perceptions and questions of police legitimacy have arisen among African American and Hispanic/Latino youth (Leiber et al., 1998). These documented shortcomings by law enforcement to this group create dissatisfaction, social distance, distrust, and apathy.

Policing methodologies such as community policing have been found to improve police/community relations within predominately African American and Hispanic/Latino communities. Some researchers contend that in order to improve these strained relationships, police should engage in a dialogue with youth and acknowledge their ideas (Solis, Portillos & Brunson, 2009). Others researchers have focused on the importance of procedural justice (Mazerolle, Antrobus, Bennett, & Tyler, 2013). They have found that when people understand the actions of police officers and believe police are operating in a procedurally just way, which would include the fair and respectful treatment of citizens, people are more likely to think favorably of the police (Mazerolle, et al., 2013; Tyler & Fagan, 2008; Reisig & Lloyd, 2009). This research has laid the foundation for programs that seek to improve police legitimacy.

Several programs (e.g., D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T) have been implemented to improve police/community relations and perceptions of the police among youth. However, research on these programs has garnered inconsistent results concerning their effectiveness because they primarily address drug abuse and gang prevention rather than police/youth relations (Anderson et al., 2007; West & O’Neal, 2004).

The TAPS Academy takes a slightly different approach by targeting a specific segment of the youth population—at-risk youth—via effective interactions, mentoring, and communication. The TAPS Academy builds on the strengths of programs such as D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. and addresses important topics such as violence, drug use, and proper ways to interact with the police. The primary focus however, is to reduce the social distance between at-risk youth and police officers.

There is a need for more programs to address the strained relationship between police and youth. Moreover, there is a greater need for research on these programs to determine their effectiveness at improving perceptions of the police among minority youth and reducing social distance. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to investigate the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy on African American and Hispanic/Latino (minority) at-risk youth. Specifically, this research examines the extent to which minority youth have positive feelings for the police and determines whether the TAPS Academy is an effective program for reducing social distance between minority youth and the police. Using a pre-test/post-test model, paired samples t-tests examined social distance between at-risk youth engaged in the TAPS Academy and the police. Independent samples t-test examined differences in social distance of pre-test and post-test among subgroups of the samples by race and gender.

Method

Study Participants

The initial sample consisted of 75 youth; however, only 50 youth completed the post-test. Therefore, the resulting sample for this study consisted of 50 youth from whom there were pre-test and post-test measures to compare. Youth comprising the sample were engaged in the TAPS Academy from September 2013 through December 2013. The sample is considered a purposive sample because youth engaged in the TAPS Academy were chosen by alternative schools and juvenile justice administrators based on criteria such as duration in facility (youth had to be committed to the facility for 11 or more weeks), behavior, attendance, academic performance, and potential for success. Due to the duration of commitment to the facility, TAPS Academy tends to include the most at-risk youth. Parental consent forms were distributed and completed by all parents/guardians of students who participated in this study. All study activities were approved by the University of Houston-Clear Lake Institutional Review Board (IRB). The final youth sample ranged in age from 1317 (M = 15.73, SD = .97), with 42% identifying as African American and 58% identifying as Hispanic/Latino. The majority of the youth were males (82%) compared to females (18%). In addition, 8% of youth participants reported enrollment in middle school (7th or 8th grades); 46% reported enrollment as high school freshmen; 21% reported enrollment as high school sophomores; 12% reported enrollment as high school juniors; 1% reported enrollment as high school seniors; and 12% reported earning a GED.

There were 11 officers involved in the program. The officers’ ages ranged from 30 to 54, with 73% male and 27% female. Fifty-four percent of the officers were African American, 18% were White, 18% were Hispanic/Latino, and 9% were Asian/Pacific Islander. The officers’ years of service on the department ranged from 5 to 32 years, with 32% ranking as sergeants, 27% as senior officers, 18% as officers, and 18% as lieutenants. Forty-five percent of the officers involved in the program received a Master’s degree, 9% completed some graduate work, 27% completed an undergraduate degree, 9% completed an associate’s degree, and 9% completed some undergraduate coursework. Most of the officers (82%) reported having children.

Evaluation Design/Data Collection

In order to assess the extent of social distance between minority youth and the police, pre- and post-test surveys were completed by youth engaged in the TAPS Academy. The pre-test (TI) was completed by participants during week 1 of the TAPS Academy and the post-test (T2) was completed during week 11 of the TAPS Academy. Prior to administering the survey, the purpose of the study was explained to participants. It was also explained to youth that their participation was completely voluntary, their responses were anonymous, and they could stop completing the survey at any time. The surveys were then distributed to the youth and, upon completion, were collected by the researchers.

Measurement

Youth completed a social distance scale that consisted of 12 items adapted from the Bogardus (1933) Social Distance Scale. Although Bogardus’ Social Distance scale was originally created to measure social distance between different racial and ethnic groups (Bogardus, 1933), it was modified for the present study to measure social distance between police officers and youth. Youth were asked to indicate the extent to which they either agreed or disagreed with a series of statements on a 4-point continuum (See Table 1 for complete scale). The responses were pre-coded as 1 (strongly disagree), 2 (disagree), 3 (agree), and 4 (strongly agree). Internal reliability of the social distance scale was .916 for the pre-test and .899 for the post-test.

Table 1. African American & Hispanic/Latino Paired Samples Results (n = 50)

Test

Pre-test=1

Post-test=2

Mean

Std.
Deviation

t-value

Cohen’s d

I respect the police

1

2.2600

1.00631

-4.198**

.81

2

2.9800

.74203

I feel close to police officers

1

1.6400

.77618

-5.200**

.92

2

2.3800

.83029

Police officers will treat me fairly when I get into trouble

1

1.7000

.78895

-5.267**

1.0

2

2.5200

.70682

Police officers will help me when I am in trouble

1

2.0000

.90351

-3.746**

.75

2

2.6400

.77618

Police officers will listen to me when I get into trouble

1

1.8200

.87342

-3.500**

.71

2

2.4200

.81039

I care what police officers think of me

1

1.4000

.67006

-5.002**

.84

2

2.1400

1.04998

I want to get along well with police officers

1

2.1000

.93131

-3.525**

.72

2

2.7200

.78350

I don’t want to disappoint police officers by getting into trouble

1

2.1600

.95533

-1.804+

.39

2

2.5200

.86284

I feel connected to the police in my community

1

1.5800

.78480

-3.293**

.65

2

2.0800

.75160

I believe the police respect me

1

1.6600

.74533

-5.824**

1.1

2

2.5600

.76024

I believe the police do their job of fighting crime well

1

2.0200

.89191

-3.625**

.80

2

2.6800

.74066

The police treat all people fairly

1

1.6000

.78246

-5.112**

1.0

2

2.4000

.75593

*p ≤ .05 (two-tailed). **p ≤ .01 (two-tailed). +p ≤ .10 (two-tailed).

Results

Participants completed a social distance scale, with higher scores indicating less social distance between youth and the police and lower scores indicating more social distance between youth and the police. Pre-test scores ranged from 12 to 42 out of a possible range of 12 to 48, with a sample mean of 21.94 (SD = 7.32). Post-test scores ranged from 12 to 48 out of a possible range of 12 to 48, with a sample mean of 30.04 (SD = 6.62). During the pre-test, an independent samples t-test found no significant differences between African American and Hispanic/Latino youth on the social distance scale t(48) = .437, p = .664. The Cohen’s effect size value (d = .12) suggests a small effect. Similarly, there were also no significant differences between African American and Hispanic/Latino youth on the social distance scale during the post-test t(48) = -.638, p = .527). Cohen’s effect size value (d = .18) suggests a relatively small effect.

From pre-test to post-test, however, results from a paired samples t-test indicated that youth showed significant improvement in social distance. As seen in Table 1, there was a statistically significant difference in the pre-test and post-test scores on 11 out of the 12 items of the social distance scale. These findings suggest the TAPS Academy may be an effective intervention for improving social distance among minority youth.

After participating in the TAPS Academy, African American youth were more likely to respond affirmatively to feeling close to the police, caring what officers thought, getting along with police officers, and believing that officers respect and treat people fairly. These findings are consistent with research suggesting that the development of social bonds will improve perceptions of the police. Despite these findings, however, African American youth showed no statistically significant improvement from pre-test to post-test on several items, including perceptions that the police will help and listen during times of trouble, respecting the police, not wanting to disappoint officers, and feeling connected to the police. These findings suggest that the TAPS Academy is a potentially effective program for improving social distance among African American youth and the police but fails to completely eliminate social distance (see Table 2.)

Table 2. African American Paired Samples Results (n = 21)

Test

Pre-test=1

Post-test=2

Mean

Std.
Deviation

t-value

Cohen’s d

I respect the police

1

2.4762

1.16701

-1.191

.35

2

2.8571

.96362

I feel close to police officers

1

1.6667

.91287

-3.200**

.80

2

2.4286

.97834

Police officers will treat me fairly when I get into trouble

1

1.7143

.84515

-2.500*

.86

2

2.4286

.81064

Police officers will help me when I am in trouble

1

2.0476

.97346

-1.404

.46

2

2.4762

.87287

Police officers will listen to me when I get into trouble

1

1.8571

.96362

-1.633

.55

2

2.3810

.92066

I care what police officers think of me

1

1.2857

.56061

-3.068**

.85

2

2.0952

1.22085

I want to get along well with police officers

1

2.1429

.91026

-1.985+

.91

2

2.6667

.79582

I don’t want to disappoint police officers by getting into trouble

1

2.4286

1.02817

.000

0

2

2.4286

1.07571

I feel connected to the police in my community

1

1.6190

.92066

-1.482

.49

2

2.0476

.80475

I believe the police respect me

1

1.5714

.74642

-3.508**

1.1

2

2.5238

.92839

I believe the police do their job of fighting crime well

1

2.0476

1.02353

-1.743+

.65

2

2.6667

.85635

The police treat all people fairly

1

1.6190

.80475

-2.500*

.83

2

2.3333

.91287

*p ≤ .05 (two-tailed). **p ≤ .01 (two-tailed). +p ≤ .10 (two-tailed).

The finding that participation in the TAPS Academy does not completely eliminate but potentially improves social distance between African American youth and the police represents a stark contrast with previous research findings of social distance between Hispanic/Latino youth and the police. From pre-test to post-test, Hispanic/Latino youth who participated in the TAPS Academy showed statistically significant improvement in social distance on every item of the scale, ranging from respecting the police to believing the police treat people fairly (see Table 3).

Table 3. Hispanic/Latino Paired Samples Results (n = 29)

Test

Pre-test=1

Post-test=2

Mean

Std.
Deviation

t-value

Cohen’s d

I respect the police

1

2.1034

.85960

-5.506**

1.3

2

3.0690

.52989

I feel close to police officers

1

1.6207

.67685

-4.063**

1.0

2

2.3448

.72091

Police officers will treat me fairly when I get into trouble

1

1.6897

.76080

-5.142**

1.2

2

2.5862

.62776

Police officers will help me when I am in trouble

1

1.9655

.86531

-4.075**

1.0

2

2.7586

.68947

Police officers will listen to me when I get into trouble

1

1.7931

.81851

-3.494**

.84

2

2.4483

.73612

I care what police officers think of me

1

1.4828

.73779

-3.994**

.82

2

2.1724

.92848

I want to get along well with police officers

1

2.0690

.96106

-2.891**

.78

2

2.7586

.78627

I don’t want to disappoint police officers by getting into trouble

1

1.9655

.86531

-3.087**

.79

2

2.5862

.68229

I feel connected to the police in my community

1

1.5517

.68589

-3.417**

.78

2

2.1034

.72431

I believe the police respect me

1

1.7241

.75103

-4.689**

1.2

2

2.5862

.62776

I believe the police do their job of fighting crime well

1

2.0000

.80178

-3.700**

.93

2

2.6897

.66027

The police treat all people fairly

1

1.5862

.77998

-4.870**

1.2

2

2.4483

.63168

*p ≤ .05 (two-tailed). **p ≤ .01 (two-tailed). +p ≤ .10 (two-tailed).

In addition to exploring the effects of the TAPS Academy on African American and Hispanic/Latino youth, we examined the effects of the TAPS Academy on gender. During the pre-test, an independent samples t-test revealed a significant difference in social distance between males (M = 20.85, SD = 7.27) and females (M = 26.88, SD = 5.48); t(48) = -2.338, p = .024. The Cohen’s effect size value (d = .93) suggests a large effect. There were no significant differences between male (M = 29.97, SD = 6.47) and female (M = 30.33, SD = 7.69) youth on the social distance scale during the post-test t(48) = -.145, p = .885). Cohen’s effect size value (d = .0) suggests a small effect. Using a paired samples t-test to examine social distance among males from pre-test to post-test, results found that males showed improvement from pre-test to post-test on all measures of social distance (see Table 4).

Table 4. Paired SamplesMale (n = 41)

Test

Pre-test=1

Post-test=2

Mean

Std.
Deviation

t-value

Cohen’s d

I respect the police

2.1951

1.00547

-3.958**

.38

1.3

2.9268

.75466

I feel close to police officers

1.5366

.74490

-5.595**

1.1

1.0

2.4146

.80547

Police officers will treat me fairly when I get into trouble

1.6829

.81973

-4.759**

1.0

1.2

2.5122

.71141

Police officers will help me when I am in trouble

1.9512

.92063

-3.733**

.80

1.0

2.6341

.76668

Police officers will listen to me when I get into trouble

1.7032

.81375

-4.039**

.85

.84

2.3902

.80244

I care what police officers think of me

1.3171

.60988

-4.996**

.95

.82

2.0732

.93248

I want to get along well with police officers

1.9756

.93509

-3.920**

.89

.78

2.7561

.79939

I don’t want to disappoint police officers by getting into trouble

1.9756

.90796

-3.222**

.74

.79

2.6098

.80244

I feel connected to the police in my community

1.4390

.70883

-4.309**

.88

.78

2.0732

.72077

I believe the police respect me

1.5854

.70624

-6.645**

1.4

1.2

2.6098

.70278

I believe the police do their job of fighting crime well

1.9268

.87722

-3.434**

.84

.93

2.6098

.73750

The police treat all people fairly

1.5610

.77617

-4.683**

1.0

1.2

2.3659

.69843

*p ≤ .05 (two-tailed). **p ≤ .01 (two-tailed). +p ≤ .10 (two-tailed).

Unlike males, females showed only marginally significant improvement on two measures. Females were more likely to agree with the statement that the police fight crime well. They were also more likely to agree with the statement that the police will treat them fairly (see Table 5).

Table 5. Paired SamplesFemale (n = 9)

Test

Pre-test=1

Post-test=2

Mean

Std.
Deviation

t-value

Cohen’s d

I respect the police

2.5556

1.01379

-1.414

.77

1.3

3.2222

.66667

I feel close to police officers

2.1111

.78174

-.426

.12

1.0

2.2222

.97183

Police officers will treat me fairly when I get into trouble

1.7778

.66667

-2.135+

1.1

1.2

2.5556

.72648

Police officers will help me when I am in trouble

2.2222

.83333

-.936

.52

1.0

2.6667

.86603

Police officers will listen to me when I get into trouble

2.3333

1.00000

-.389

.23

.84

2.5556

.88192

I care what police officers think of me

1.7778

.83333

-1.414

.54

.82

2.4444

1.50923

I want to get along well with police officers

2.6667

.70711

-.426

.15

.78

2.5556

.72648

I don’t want to disappoint police officers by getting into trouble

3.0000

.70711

-1.835

.99

.79

2.1111

1.05409

I feel connected to the police in my community

2.2222

.83333

-.229

.12

.78

2.1111

.92796

I believe the police respect me

2.0000

.86603

-.707

.35

1.2

2.3333

1.00000

I believe the police do their job of fighting crime well

2.4444

.88192

-1.170+

.69

.93

3.0000

70711

The police treat all people fairly

1.7778

.83333

-1.941

.83

1.2

2.5556

1.01379

*p ≤ .05 (two-tailed). **p ≤ .01 (two-tailed). +p ≤ .10 (two-tailed).

Although males and females scored differently on the pre-test, they scored similarly during the post-test. Males and females reported fairly similar levels of social distance between themselves and the police after participating in the TAPS Academy.

Findings from the analyses mentioned above indicate (a) the TAPS Academy is potentially an effective approach for reducing social distance between minority youth and the police, (b) the TAPS Academy may be more effective at reducing social distance between Hispanic/Latino youth and the police than it is in reducing social distance between African American youth and the police, and (c) the TAPS Academy may be more effective in reducing social distance among male youth than females. However, these results should be interpreted with caution, as the analyses included a very small sample of female participants, which may have confounded the results. Also, gender and race effects were not tested directly.

In addition to the social distance scale, qualitative questions assessed the types of people TAPS participants viewed favorably and their perceptions of police. Participants were provided the opportunity to indicate their heroes. They were also provided the opportunity to finish the sentence, “If I were the person in charge of the police, I would…” Although many participants responded to both qualitative queries, they were not required to respond; therefore, the number of reported qualitative responses during the pre-test differs from the number of quantitative responses during the pre-test.

During the pre-test, 50 youth identified their heroes. Most youth responded positively by listing a family member (e.g., father, mother, aunt, or uncle). Two youth responded negatively by stating, “not the f**king police.” Six youth indicated that a rapper (e.g., Sean Carter Jay Z, Lil Boosie, and/or Chief Keef) were their heroes. Three youth said they did not have a hero (see Table 6).

Fifty youth completed the statement, “If I were the person in charge of the police, I would…” The majority of youth responded negatively by saying, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with the police,” “f**k the police,” or “not beat up on people for no reason.” Seven youth responded by stating, “I would legalize marijuana,” “change the laws,” or “treat them the way they treat people.” Two youth responded by saying, “I would continue protecting the people in the community” (see Table 7).

Using a different approach during the post-test, TAPS Academy participants were provided the opportunity to share their thoughts on the program by answering the questions, “What do you like about the TAPS program?” and “What would you change about the TAPS program?” Although youth were not required to respond, the majority of youth responded positively to both questions. Forty-four youth responded to the first question by stating, they “liked how down to earth the police were,” “the classes were interesting,” and “the police gave good advice.” None of the youth had negative comments about the program. Six youth even noted their appreciation for the snacks provided to them by the officers during the program (see Table 8). Forty-two youth responded positively to the second question by saying they would not change anything about the program. One youth responded negatively by stating, “get rid of the mean officers.” Seven youth responded by saying they should “have better snacks,” “shorten the program time,” and “have more female police officers” (see Table 9).

Table 6. Who Is Your Hero?

Positive
Response

Negative
Response

Other

39

2

9

Table 7. If I Were In Charge of the Police, I Would…

Positive
Response

Negative
Response

Other

2

41

7

Table 8. What Do You Like About the TAPS Program?

Positive
Response

Negative
Response

Other

44

0

6

Table 9. What Would You Change About the TAPS Program?

Positive
Response

Negative
Response

Other

42

1

7

Discussion

Research has frequently identified race as a salient factor in determining perceptions of the police among various groups. Perceptions of the police often reflect the amount of social distance between those groups and the police. Existing research has consistently found that African American and Hispanic/Latino youth have held more unfavorable views of the police than non-minority youth. These negative perceptions often indicate weak social bonds. Reduction of negative perceptions could be facilitated by strengthening social bonds, which would then reduce social distance. The TAPS Academy attempts to improve social distance between at-risk youth and the police by strengthening social bonds through mentorship.

Findings from this study provide support for social bond theory and the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy in reducing social distance between minority youth and police officers. Although minority youth initially expressed negative attitudes toward the police, they reported more positive attitudes after participating in the TAPS Academy. These findings parallel existing research that suggest positive dialogues and interactions can lead to more positive perceptions of the police (Solis et al., 2009; Mazerolle et al., 2013; Tyler & Fagan, 2008; Reisig & Lloyd, 2009).

Although we identified an overall change in social distance between minority youth and the police, we found that Hispanic/Latino youth reported more favorable perceptions of the police and reduced social distance at the conclusion of the program than African American youth. Results from the study also found the TAPS Academy to potentially be more effective at improving perceptions of the police among males compared to females; however, these results were based on a limited female sample, which could have confounded the results. Possible explanations for these differing levels of effectiveness between African American and Hispanic/Latino youth, as well as males and females, center on various micro-level factors that include cross-racial mentorships, differing vicarious experiences, and familial influence.

African American youth tend to fall below both Hispanic/Latino and White youth on measures of perceptions of the police. However, when asked about fear of the police and issues regarding neighborhood policing, Hispanic/Latino perceptions tend to align with those of African Americans (Shuck, Rosenbaum, & Hawkins, 2008). These negative perceptions indicate weak social bonds; in order to improve these negative perceptions, the social bonds need to be strengthened.

Mentorship has proven effective in strengthening social bonds. Several studies have noted the importance of same-race mentoring (Ensher & Murphy, 1997; Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999; Yancey, Siegel, & McDaniel, 2002; Ward, 2000). Findings from these studies suggest youth prefer and benefit from mentors who share cultural and ethnic similarities with them. When assessing minority youth, these studies suggest African American youth benefit from African American mentors because they better understand the social and psychological struggles that they often face (Rhodes, 2002). These conclusions are important to the findings of the current study because youth engaged in the TAPS Academy were matched with police mentors of different racial groups. This could have contributed to the disparate outcomes in program effectiveness between African American and Hispanic/Latino youth.

In addition, African American youth are more likely than Hispanic/Latino youth to experience negative police contacts (Crutchfield, Skinner, Haggerty, McGlynn, & Catalano, 2012). They are also more likely to have family, friends, and neighbors who experience negative police contacts (Rosenbaum, Shuck, Costello, Hawkins, & Ring, 2005). When these negative contacts are shared they create vicarious experiences that influence attitudes and perceptions about the police (Rosenbaum et al., 2005). Since African American youth showed less improvement on five social distance variables (respect, help, listen, disappoint, and connect) than Hispanic/Latino youth, it is possible this outcome resulted from greater personal and/or vicarious experiences (especially those shared by family, friends, and neighbors) encountered by African American youth which, in turn, influenced the police/youth mentor relationship.

When exploring gender differences, males made greater strides in reducing social distance from pre-test to post-test than females. However, the significant difference may be due to gender differences during the pre-test. Females initially reported more favorable perceptions of the police than males. It is possible that these gender differences in reducing social distance are due to the fact that males had a longer way to go to improve their perceptions of the police than females. There is extensive research indicating that girls allow interpersonal relationships such as mentoring to take a greater role in their lives than boys; therefore, girls often benefit from those relationships more (Jack, 1991; Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991). Bogat and Liang (2005) argue that boys and girls have differing mentoring needs and benefit from different types of mentoring relationships. Girls tend to be more verbal and emotionally driven while boys are less likely to express their emotions. Rhodes (2002) stresses the importance of “meaningful conversations” in facilitating successful outcomes from mentoring programs. Rickwood and Braithwaite (1994) posit that boys may not benefit from mentoring programs that are primarily verbally based. However, our study found that males benefitted from the TAPS Academy more than females. Unfortunately, females represented a small (18%) portion of the study sample, which is important to note when interpreting the results. It is possible that although African American females developed stronger social bonds with their police mentors by making a greater personal investment and effectively communicating in their mentoring relationships, the effect was less pronounced than it might have been because females represented a much smaller portion of the sample.

Although the findings of our study yield promising results for reducing social distance between minority youth and the police, a significant limitation of this study lies with the research sample. The sample is relatively small and consists solely of at-risk youth in Houston, Texas. Use of this sample places limitations on the generalizability of the research results. The goal of the TAPS Academy is to serve as a model program for reducing social distance among at-risk youth across various geographic areas. Future research should explore the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy on at-risk populations in areas (international, state, and local) other than Houston, Texas and among groups other than youth involved in alternative schools and juvenile facilities (e.g., juvenile justice populations, non-juvenile justice–involved youth, etc.).

Conclusion

The findings from this study may inform several areas of future research. First, future research should explore a larger population sample with a sufficient number of youth from several minority groups to provide a better test of the program’s effects among treatment and control groups. It is important to note that some of the results of this study could be due to confounding factors resulting from the sample. Therefore, a larger population sample would provide more information about the extent of social distance between youth and the police, as well as provide greater insight into the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy. Second, research should examine the demographics (e.g., age, race, gender, years of service, etc.) of police mentors and how these may influence the police/youth relationship. Research exploring the demographics of police mentors can inform future police/youth programs, since such research could yield information on the characteristics of police officers who work best with minority youth at risk. Third, research should explore the effectiveness of police mentors on youth populations other than those at risk. Research exploring juvenile justice populations as well as non-juvenile justice–involved youth may provide support for the adaptability of the TAPS Academy to meet the needs of multiple youth populations. Fourth, future research should assess the relationship between African American youth and police mentors. Since findings from the current study provide varying degrees of support for the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy on African American youth, research is needed to help us understand why. Finally, future studies should explore the effect of matching same-race police mentors with youth. There is a considerable amount of research emphasizing the benefits of same race mentor/mentee relationships—an examination into the effects of these relationship pairs may shed light on ways to enhance social bonds, reduce social distance, and improve the effectiveness of the TAPS Academy youth.

With these recommendations for future research in mind, the TAPS Academy provides a start for community policing practices that affect the most disadvantaged populations. As the TAPS Academy continues to grow, additional research will provide more answers to questions concerning the best approaches to reducing social distance between minority youth and the police.

About the Authors

Chenelle A. Jones, PhD, is an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio. She received her PhD from Texas Southern University in the administration of justice. Dr. Jones is the national director of research for the Teen And Police Service (TAPS) Academy. Her research interests include juvenile delinquency, policing, race, gender, and crime.

Everette B. Penn, PhD, is a professor of criminology and Department Chair of Social and Cultural Sciences at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As the director of the Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy, he consults with a variety of police, juvenile justice, and community organizations to better understand youth, police, and the intersection between the two.

Shannon Davenport, MS, received a master’s degree in criminology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As the assistant director of the TAPS Academy, Ms. Davenport is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the program.

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