Abstract: Juvenile Justice Stops and Police-Initiated Post-Traumatic Stress Symptomatology (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

296P Juvenile Justice Stops and Police-Initiated Post-Traumatic Stress Symptomatology

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Gearhart, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, MO
Courtney Jones, MSW, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, MO
Kristen Berg, PhD, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background: Being stopped by the police can be a traumatic experience for youth, placing them at higher risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms in the aftermath.  This study tests characteristics of youths’ interactions with the police as predictors of police-initiated post-traumatic stress symptomatology (PI-PTSS).

Method:  Data for this study are drawn from the Fragile Families Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). The FFCWS is a longitudinal survey that follows an ethnically and racially diverse birth cohort of children, and their families, through age 18. The study sample consisted of youths who had been stopped at least one time by the police and did not have missing data on any of the analysis variables (n = 816).  The majority of youth in the sample are black (58.1%, n = 474), 69.7% of the sample are male, and roughly half of the sample is between the ages of 16 and 19 years old (n = 247

PI-PTSS was measured using nine items specifically assessing how frequently youths experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms in the context of their interactions with the police (e.g. pictures of the incident sometimes pop into your mind). All youth were asked if the following had ever happened when being stopped by the police: 1) an officer used a racial slur, 2) officer frisked or pat you down, 3) officer searched your bags or pockets, 4) officer used harsh language, 5) officer threatened physical force, 6) officer used physical force, and 7) officer handcuffed you.  These characteristics of police stops were entered into a Poisson regression predicting PI-PTSS.  Analyses also included criminal history characteristics (youth age the first time stopped by a police officer and number of times stopped by the police) and sociodemographic control variables (age, gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty status).

Results:  Three police stop characteristics are associated with higher PI-PTSS.  Youth reported PI-PTSS that were 1.146 (p < 0.05, 95% CI = 1.008 to 1.303) times higher if they ever had an officer use a racial slur, 1.119 (p < 0.05, 95% CI = 1.001 to 1.252) times higher if an officer threatened to use force, and 1.103 (p < 0.05, 95% CI = 1.005 to 1.230) times higher if the youth reported that an officer had used harsh language while being stopped. 

The number of reported PI-PTSS are 1.272 (p < 0.05, 95% CI = 1.128 to 1.435) times higher for youths whose families were 55-99% below poverty.  Similarly, youths in families earning 100-199% below poverty reported PI-PTSS 1.172 (p < 0.05, 95% CI = 1.048 to 1.312) times higher than the reference group of youth earning 300% below poverty.

Conclusions:  Our findings suggest that juvenile justice stop characteristics associated with verbal communication are significant predictors of PI-PTSS.  This finding has important implications for police.  First, it highlights the importance of communication.  Second, research suggests that youth who have experienced trauma are more likely to interact with the juvenile justice system.  Thus, findings highlight the importance of disseminating knowledge of trauma, and how it affects young people, to law enforcement.