New Report by Strategies for Youth: "Where's The State? Creating and Implementing State Standards for Law Enforcement Interactions With Youth"

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Strategies for Youth, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit, notes that standards for teachers, daycare professionals and doctors are commonplace, and police agencies and officers need state standards too.

Strategies for Youth recently released a policy report revealing a risky double standard: why don’t police receive the same support, oversight and accountability on the state level as doctors and teachers do?

Could you imagine placing your child in a daycare that had not been required to meet minimal state safety standards? Or bringing her to a pediatrician whose performance was measured solely by others in the same practice?

Of course not. A consistent set of standards developed by diverse stakeholders and enforced by state agencies in fields like medicine and education do more than help keep young people safe and healthy. They also protect the professionals working within these institutions.

Why, then, are police departments exempt from this type of state support, oversight and accountability?

A recent survey conducted by Strategies for Youth, an organization dedicated to improving relations between police and youth, found that state agencies have virtually no role in setting standards used to guide law enforcement agencies and officers interactions with youth. Rather, these standards are almost always developed solely by local police agencies. As such, they rarely reflect the expertise of adolescent psychologists, or include the perspectives of educators, parents, youth workers, and juvenile justice professionals.

The result: wildly inconsistent enforcement. Too often, police officers are expected to respond, with minimal training, to youth who are traumatized, suffer from mental illness, or are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In one town, a jaywalker receives a mild rebuke. In another, he is arrested. Two teenagers shoving each other in one jurisdiction might receive a stern lecture; in another, they face assault charges.

Experts and parents understand that teens crave consistency. Many perceive this type of inconsistent treatment as deeply unfair, and rooted in race and class biases that demand challenge. The lack of consistent, rigorously enforced standards also heightens the risk that police departments will face legal challenges and federal oversight.

The solution? In this case, it’s easy. What is best for youth and the community is also best for law enforcement. Legislators should require state agencies to create and enforce developmentally-appropriate, trauma-informed standards, backed up by training and support for officers. At the end of the day, these standards will promote safer and more peaceful relations between youth and police. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that everyone will return home safely to their families. That’s one priority we can all share.

Read the latest report by Strategies for Youth: "Where's The State? Creating and Implementing State Standards for Law Enforcement Interactions With Youth" online at

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Julie Dennehy (media only)
since: 09/2012
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