Abstract: "the Talk": A Multi-Racial/Ethnic Study of the Impact of Police Encounters on Youth Engagement in Discussions about Preparation for Police Contact (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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"the Talk": A Multi-Racial/Ethnic Study of the Impact of Police Encounters on Youth Engagement in Discussions about Preparation for Police Contact

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 4 - Room 428, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Jackson, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Betty Wilson, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Stephanie Wiley, PhD, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University, BC, Canada
Background: Conversations that parents have with their kids about what to do when encountering the police—known as “the talk”—is a process that largely takes place within families of color. Much of the extant research has explored “the talk” qualitatively and primarily among Black families. Fewer studies exist that explore the “the talk” quantitatively and among a more diverse sample of youth and how this socialization process may be influenced by exposure to direct police contact.

Methods: Data were used from the University of Missouri – St. Louis Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (UMSL CSSI), a survey administered to students initially enrolled in 7th and 8th grades during the 2016-2017 school year and followed them until the 2018-2019 school year in St. Louis County (N=3,165). We measured whether the youth experienced a police stop using a dichotomous indicator (e.g., Have you ever been stopped for questioning by a police officer 0=No 1=Yes), whether a youth experienced an arrest using a dichotomous indicator (e.g., Have you ever been arrested 0=No 1=Yes), and whether a youth has ever experienced police violence (e.g., Did the police use force 0=No 1=Yes). Assessments of “the talk” were measured using 1 item, with higher mean scores indicating higher engagement in “the talk” (e.g., My parents have talked with me about what to do if I am stopped by the police 1=Strongly disagree to 5=Strongly agree). Ordered logistic regression was used to model associations between youth engagement in “the talk” and police contact controlling for race/ethnicity.

Results: Results suggested differences in engagement in “the talk” on average among youth across racial/ethnic identity. Specifically, higher engagement in “the talk” was reported by youth who identified as Black (3.75), Native American (3.65), or Mixed Race (3.52). Using ordered logistic regression, results suggested that race/ethnicity and police violence exposure were significant predictors of “the talk.” When considering the role of police violence exposure and race/ethnicity, non-Black youth had over 46% decreased odds of engagement in “the talk” compared to Black youth. Controlling for race/ethnicity and experiencing an arrest, police violence exposure was associated with 60.9% increased odds of having “the talk” compared to youth who reported no exposure to police. Similarly, the experience of being stopped and questioned by the police was associated with 21.9% increased odds of having “the talk” when controlling for race/ethnicity, an arrest, and police violence exposure.

Conclusion: These findings contribute to the dearth in the literature on discussions families have about navigating police encounters which have dominantly explored this issue among Black families. It is understandable why much of the research on “the talk” focuses on Black families, given the persistent and disparate targeting they face by the police. However, much can be learned by examining how other racial/ethnic groups engage in “the talk,” and how police contact shapes this socialization process.