December 3, 2020

A new study co-authored by Kevin Haggerty, endowed professor for prevention and director of the School’s Social Development Research Group, shows that Black youth who had been stopped and questioned by police as early as eighth grade were 11 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested by the age of 20. 

Although much has been written about the frequency of police encounters with Black youth and what happens when that situation escalates, this study, some 20 years in the making, shows how a police encounter with a teenager may shape a life, depending on race.

The research team found that Black youth are more likely than white youth to be treated as suspects after a first encounter with the police, leading to more arrests over the years. For example, by the time study participants had turned 20 years old, 53% of the white youth had engaged in some criminal behavior, compared to 32% of the Black youth. Yet, Black youth faced more criminal penalties and were 11 times more likely to be arrested.  

“White people are engaging in more illegal behavior, largely because of their greater drug use, and getting arrested less often at age 20 than Black people, who are committing fewer crimes and getting arrested more,” said Haggerty. 

The study tracked 331 Black and white eighth-grade students enrolled in 18 different Seattle public schools. The students (and their parents) were interviewed at about age 13 and again at age 20, and surveyed several times in the interim. 

More information is needed about how and why police stops have such long-term consequences for Black youth. Haggerty noted that additional training could help police officers better understand the potential impact of that stop.

The researchers also found that stationing police officers in schools and labeling them resource officers may send a mixed message, causing more public concern, not less, about school violence.

“We have to be really thoughtful about how Black young children are being contacted by the police,” said Haggerty, “and how that creates a cascading effect on young adulthood.”

Haggerty and co-author Annie McGlynn-Wright, a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University who worked on the study while pursuing a doctoral degree at the UW, published their results October 31 in the journal “Social Problems.”  The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Robert Crutchfield, a professor emeritus of sociology at the UW, and Martie Skinner, a research scientist at the UW Social Development Research Group, were co-authors.


Early police stops had long-term consequences for Seattle’s Black youth, UW research shows — The Seattle Times
How a police contact by middle school leads to different outcomes for Black, white youth — UW News
Police contact with Black youth ‘sets the tone’ for future interaction, UW study finds — KING 5 News 
UW study examines whether contact with police in middle school leads to arrests later — KNKX Radio