Research Summary

Community Policing – A Shared Responsibility: A Voice-Centered Relational Analysis of a Police/Youth-of-Color Dialogue

2014

Community Policing – A Shared Responsibility: A Voice-Centered Relational Analysis of a Police/Youth-of-Color Dialogue

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YouthREX Research Summaries ask Just Six Questions of research publications on key youth issues. These summaries get at what the youth sector needs to know in two pages or less!

1. What was this research about?
This research explores how racial discrimination impacts relations between police and minority youth. Racial profiling has negative consequences, both material and psychological, for people who experience this form of discrimination. While youth of colour are more likely to be stopped by police than adults of colour, and have negative perceptions of police, there are few studies that focus on this issue. Most research about racial profiling by police focuses on the experiences of adult people of colour. Moreover, most research explores only one side of the experience of racial profiling (the police or the youth) but rarely the two perspectives in conversation, as this study does. This research interviews frontline police officers and youth of colour in dialogue to better understand how to address the root causes of poor relations between police and youth of colour, and to empower youth to have public conversations about their experiences of racism and racial profiling.

2. Where did the research take place?
The research took place in Ottawa, Ontario.

3. Who is this research about?
This research is about street-involved youth. Specifically, this research is a case study of two young men, one white and one Aboriginal, who are a part of a larger ongoing study exploring drug and crime patterns of street involved youth.

“The findings here suggest that if police are to gain the trust of racial minority youth, they must fashion an organizational culture that is transparent, accountable, and receptive to the group’s concerns; if they do not, they face the real possibility of their legitimacy being undermined” (p. 235).

4. How was this research done?
This multi-layered, collaborative, and community-driven project was overseen by a steering committee that represented project stakeholders (i.e. police, funders, policy makers, community service agencies, and educators).

The data was collected in two phases. First, the researcher held a focus group with 15 youth of colour and a separate focus group with nine frontline police officers. Second, the youth and police officers came together to participate in a 3.5 hour semi-structured dialogue. The youth and police officers were joined in the session by silent supporters who played a witnessing role and by a graphic artist who visually recorded the conversation. The data was analyzed using a voice-centred relational method. Transcript and graphic recording data were categorized according to personal, interpersonal, and contextual themes.

5. What are the key findings?
When talking about their experiences, both the youth and police officers used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ to emphasize shared within-group experience and identity, and the need for collective action. Both groups agreed that relationships of trust based on mutual respect, fair treatment, understanding, and consideration need to be established.

The following factors contribute to the poor relationship between youth and police in the study:

  • Poor communication (lack of clarity or absence of communication for police stoppages)
  • Poor cooperation and mutual understanding (police want youth to cooperate in police investigations but for youth this comes with risk)
  • Interactions framed by mutual mistrust and insensitivity (youth feel disrespected and police officers feel that youth do not present as respectable)

Furthermore, the study finds that youth experience their interactions with police as racially prejudiced, which the police dispute. Youth view the complaints process as inaccessible and ineffective, and the School Resource Officers as unapproachable. Youth feel that the officers are reactive rather than a proactive in their encounters with youth. Police officers believe that they need more cultural training as well as more financial and human resources to do their job in the best way possible. Police officers also feel that that more needs to be done to de-stigmatize policing in ethnic communities. Additionally, police believe that if the youth knew about their rights, they would have fewer problems.

6. Why does it matter for youth work?
This research is important for youth work because it is the first of its kind to bring together both the police and racialized youth in dialogue. The model of bringing different groups together in dialogue is not only useful as a research method, but has potential as a promising intervention. Structured and supported dialogue spaces provide youth with an opportunity to voice their concerns. Likewise, it is an opportunity for all parties involved to hear a different perspective and participate in constructive problem-solving.

Youth workers can support youth to know their rights when it comes to police interactions and to use the complaints process if necessary. Youth workers can advocate for the creation of community-centred policies against police racial profiling. Youth workers can work with youth to create curriculum for police officers to learn how to be more approachable, proactively create positive relationships, and change and challenge structural racism.

Giwa, S., James, C. E., Anucha, U., & Schwartz, K. (2014). Community policing – A shared responsibility: A voice-centered relational analysis of a police/youth-of-color dialogue. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 12(3), 218-245.

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