Review: Juveniles: “Police Have the Power”

Reviewer: Sarah Krantz, Esq.

Article to be Reviewed: Futterman, Craig B.; Hunt, Chaclyn; Kalven, Jamie ‘They Have All the Power’ Yoth/Police Encounters on Chicagos South Side, University of Chicago Law School Chicago UnBound, Public Law and Legal Theory Working papers (2016). http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2022&context=public_law_and_legal_theory.


Juveniles have predisposed notions of police before they ever actually encounter a police officer. These notions are born through juveniles’ personal interactions with police, stories of other juvenile interactions, and from family members already in the criminal system. Craig B. Futterman interacted with and studied students in Chicago’s South Side to compile their observations and experiences with police.

Perceptions of Police

Students report that police officers consistently approach with a tone that is calculated to convey a message of power and authority. This occurs by asking questions of where kids live, who their friends are, and what “type” of kid they are. These questions illustrate suspicion of the child from the beginning taking all power away from the child.
In reporting their experiences with police, the students in the study noted the police officers’ routine attacks on their self-esteem. However, students also often minimized how they were affected by these encounters. Minimizing their feelings does not eliminate the lasting effects that negative police encounters have left upon them.

Good Cops vs. Bad Cops

The biggest problem that police officers’ face is that no matter how many good officers exist, the students seemed to always answer that there are more bad than good. Even when the students had positive interactions with police, those interactions were eclipsed by their everyday experiences of being treated like a criminal in their community. Perceptions of dirty cops, disrespectful cops, abusive cops, and dangerous cops were reported common themes.


Juveniles feel alienated from police and purpose of policing. Students in the study reported such a threat to them by police officers that they argued they would be safer without the police altogether. Due to their deep-rooted distrust in the police many reported they would not call the police if a crime occurred against themselves or a family member. This creates a culture where there is minimal cooperation with police and thus a lack of prevention of crimes or the ability to solve crimes.

How to Create Change: Honesty and Transparency

In finding a solution to way juveniles feel about police their experiences must be acknowledged and honesty must come back into the practice of policing. For this to happen there must be a push to share information with the public. Futterman suggests press conferences should be held within 12 hours of a major incident and that videos, if they exist, should be released within 24 to 48 hours of the incident’s occurrence.
Cincinnati overhauled its police department by creating mechanisms for accountability and building constructive relationships between citizens and police officers. As a result between 1999 and 2014, use of force decreased 69 percent, citizen complaints decreased 42 percent, citizen injuries during police encounters went down 56 percent, and misdemeanor arrests decreased b more than 200 percent. Violent crime was also reduced by 50 percent in the same time period.

How to Create Change: Collect and Share Data

In 1994, the Federal Government required the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) to collect data on police use of force from local law enforcement agencies. However, the law failed to provide funding or enforcement mechanisms. Thus, reporting is still extremely limited. Futterman suggests that it is time to require all law enforcement agencies to report information on citizen-police encounters in a uniform manner, and make that information accessible at least on an annual basis.

In Chicago police misconduct investigation files are now open to the public as a sign of transparency and accessible through a public database. The sharing of information facilitates honest and informed conversations and allows those most affected by police abuse to play a role in police oversight.

Black juveniles suffer the most from police abuse—causing a deep-rooted lack of trust. Trust cannot be restored until systems have been created to address and eliminate police abuse. The current system of unchecked power forms the context of police encounters with youths and overshadows any positive interaction a juvenile experiences with an officer.

How to Create Change: Investigate and Address Complaints of Police Abuse

The students reported that in their encounters with police, time and time again, police abused their power. However, very few students even considered reporting this misconduct. There needs to be a system that makes it easy for citizens to report misconduct and offer feedback. Allegations then need to be diligently investigated in an unbiased fashion. Misconduct needs to be addressed and officers need to be transparent about how they are correcting it. Once young people can see that there is accountability, only then, can they begin to trust law enforcement again.

How to Create Change: Root Out Police Misconduct

A small fraction of police are responsible for the vast majority of abuses within the system. Police departments should address small problems before they become big problems and address the underlying issues causing the problematic behaviors of officers. Early warnings systems were implemented in the Miami-Dade Police Department in the late 1970s and since have been promoted as best practices for promoting integrity in law enforcement.

How to Create Change: Eliminate Police Code of Silence

Officers’ code of silence—remaining mute in the face of charges of police abuse—remains one of the greatest challenges to accountability. Officers who witness misconduct sometimes deny that the accused abuse ever occurred. To eliminate this, officers need ethics training so that police integrity is something to be valued and rewarded. Departments should establish and enforce mandatory reporting policies.

How to Create Change: Community Oversight of Police

The public needs to start playing a meaningful role in police oversight. Futterman’s experiences with the students in this study confirmed that an independent review is critical to building trust, transparency, and accountability. Juveniles are much more likely to view civilian review boards as trustworthy if they consist of people from their community. Futterman further suggests that for the civilian review boards to be effective the members must have independence, be provided with sufficient resources including money and time for review, and be given the power to effectively investigate. It is also essential that results are transparent.

How to Create Change: Allow the Public to Influence Police Policy and Practice

Communities that allow its members to influence its practices have seen an increase in trust, reduction of abuse, and improved effectiveness of police departments. Body cameras, for example, allow a way to check police abuses of power. However, even body cams have limits; they are not a substitute for thorough investigation.

How to Create Change: Prosecute Police Misconduct

The prosecution of police misconduct adds another level of accountability and encourages officers to act properly. More importantly, it shows juveniles and their families that the justice system will not stand behind crimes committed by state actors.

How to Create Change: Minimize Police-Citizen Encounters

Encounters between police and citizens, including juveniles, are inevitable. However, the repeated negative encounters, bolstered by the lack of accountability, contribute to the current state of distrust between juveniles and the police. Encounters, especially those steeped in racial bias, do not create trust or police legitimacy in the eyes of juveniles.

How to Create Change: Re-examine Stop and Frisk

The practice of stop and frisk has brought up charges of racial profiling and discriminatory policing in communities across the country. While stop and frisk has led to the discovery of criminal evidence, it also has helped to create the alienation that young African Americans feel by the police. These interactions with police create a youth population that has a lack of self-esteem, feelings of police illegitimacy, and the belief that their community’s public safety is at risk. These experiences affect juveniles’ sense of themselves and their place in the world at a time when they should feel free to explore the environment around them. Additionally, as police continue to use stop and frisk disproportionately in minority communities, juveniles will continue to see these stops as unjust and unwarranted—which furthers exacerbates feelings of distrust.

How to Create Change: Create a Culture where Officers are Guardians

Police officers need to see themselves as community guardians who are trained to de-escalate and mediate conflict rather than soldiers who are ready for combat. Officers need to eliminate the “they are not to be messed with” mindset and begin building positive relationships with juveniles.

How to Create Change: Train Officers to De-Escalate Conflict

Juveniles recognize that encounters with police, in which perceived slights of the challenge to authority occur, turn routine stops into something much more dramatic. Interactions with police can escalate quickly for juveniles even without the bad intentions. While juveniles are not blameless, it is important for officers to understand how to diffuse the situations before they lead to violence or arrests.

How to Create Change: Youth is a Special Population

Kids are different. Police departments often fail to train officers on adolescent development and its effects on juveniles’ interactions with police. Children’s brains and identifies are still developing and officers need to be cognizant of what stage children are at in their development.

How to Create Change: Officers Need to Treat People Fairly

Police should strive to treat people fairly and with respect in their interactions. When people feel respected by police, they are far less likely to view them as illegitimate and thus obey the law. However, respect won’t be enough to fix the feeling of distrust in urban communities. Accountability needs to be coupled with feelings by juveniles that they are being treated fairly and respectfully during their encounters with police.