States play almost no role in setting standards for the way law enforcement agencies interact with young people, according to a nationwide survey released May 31.
The lack of such standards represents a “missed opportunity” for helping youth avoid the harmful lifetime consequences of involvement with the justice system, according to the survey produced by Strategies for Youth, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based nonprofit.
Clear standards for how police and school resource officers deal with young people would also “almost certainly” lower the risk of the kinds of fatal clashes or discriminatory treatment that has fueled expensive lawsuits or federal oversight in many cities across the country, the survey authors said.
It would also promote accountability and increase the legitimacy of police in troubled urban neighborhoods.
Uniform and enforceable standards would ensure that “youth of color receive equitable treatment by police” and “significantly reduce the numbers of unnecessary arrests and violent encounters,” the survey said.
“The lack of engagement by state agencies in creating these standards is an anomaly in other professions where adults are in regular contact with children—such as health care, teaching and day care,” the survey added, pointing out that states are deeply involved in setting and enforcing rules for authorities’ behavior in those areas.
According to the survey, just two states have regulations governing “some” police-youth interactions; four states have non-binding, policy-setting advisory committees or other bodies; and one state (California) incorporates standards in police officer training. And 29 states have some statutory language related to the deployment of police in schools.
But no state has established mandatory statutes for relations between law enforcement and youth across the board.
The absence of standards amounts to an “abdication” of responsibility in developing best practices that recognize the special needs of adolescents, including the impact of trauma on youth behavior, said the study.
The survey recommended that states move swiftly to set enforceable and binding codes of behavior for police, and incorporate them into police training.