Few Standards for Police Use of Force Against Children: Investigation

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An Associated Press investigation has found that children as young as 6 have been treated harshly — even brutally — by officers of the law. They have been handcuffed, felled by stun guns, taken down and pinned to the ground by officers often far larger than they were. Departments nationwide have few or no guardrails to prevent such incidents. Black children made up more than 50 percent of those who were handled forcibly, though they are only 15 percent of the U.S. child population. They and other minority kids are often perceived by police as being older than they are.

A 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association found that Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed with the same “childhood innocence” as their white peers and are more likely to be perceived as guilty and face police violence. Other studies have found a similar bias against Black girls. The most common types of force were takedowns, strikes and muscling, followed by firearms pointed at or used on children. Less often, children faced other tactics, like the use of pepper spray or police K-9s. In Minneapolis, officers pinned children with their bodyweight at least 190 times. In Indianapolis, more than 160 kids were handcuffed; in Wichita, Kansas, police officers drew or used their Tasers on kids at least 45 times. There are no laws that specifically prohibit police force against children. Some departments have policies that govern how old a child must be to be handcuffed, but very few mention age in their use-of-force policies. While some offer guidance on how to manage juveniles accused of crime or how to handle people in mental distress, the AP could find no policy that addresses these issues together. At least 20 states have no policies setting the minimum age of arrest.

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