In response to the increased prominence of “proactive policing” and the growing presence of police in schools, scholarship has begun to explore the impact that police contact has on youth. A small subset of scholarship has examined the implications of police contact for educational outcomes. This research has generally focused on serious police contact (arrest, court involvement, and incarceration) and has found that police contact is associated with worse educational outcomes. In this paper, we build on this research in three ways: 1) By differentiating between arrests and stops that do not result in arrest; 2) By examining the implications of vicarious police contact; and 3) By examining the pathways through which experiencing arrest, experiencing a police stop without an arrest, and vicariously experiencing police contact may impact educational achievement. Addressing these gaps is critical because stops that do not result in arrest and vicarious police contact are far more common than stops that do result in arrest.
Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and multivariate regression, we examine the impact of police contact that results in arrest, police contact that does not result in arrest, and vicarious police contact on youth GPA. Then, we use the Karlson, Holm, and Breen (KHB) method to explore the degree to which teen delinquency, attitudes towards teachers, and teen mental health mediate the association between different types of police contact and youth GPA. The Fragile Families data are particularly well-suited for this analysis because they sampled youth born in 20 large cities, oversampled disadvantaged families (families that are more likely to have had negative experiences with police), and contain a wide array of family, child, school, and neighborhood characteristics that we can control for so that we can be more confident in our estimates of the associations between different types of police contact and youth GPA.
Our multivariate analyses lead to several key findings. First, youth who have experienced arrest and youth who have been stopped but not arrested have lower GPAs than youth who have not experienced direct police contact. Second, youth who have experienced vicarious police contact have lower GPAs than youth who have not experienced vicarious police contact. Third, we also find that these associations are mediated at least in part by the impact of police contact on teen delinquency, teen attitudes towards teachers, and teen mental health.
Our study is consistent with prior research suggesting that aggressive policing may have unintended negative consequences for areas outside of crime control. The negative implications of stops that do not result in arrest and vicarious police contact are especially noteworthy because these types of police contact are far more common than arrest. Therefore, when determining whether to enact or overturn aggressive policing practices, policymakers should consider the growing evidence that police contact has negative consequences for youth.