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Review: Police Violence and the Child’s Mind

Reviewer: Sarah Krantz, Esq.

Article to be Reviewed: Dennis, Andrea L. Good Cop – Bad Cop: Police Violence and the Child’s Mind, 58 Howard Law Journal 811 (2015). http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2059&context=fac_artchop.


Far too often, children are being exposed to police violence at unprecedented rates. This exposure may cause children physical, cognitive, emotional, and social trauma. More importantly the exposure may negatively influence a child’s mindset regarding the criminal justice system and police.

In 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood Initiative to address childhood exposure to violence. Holder established a national task force that issued a report in 2012.[i] The report defined violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” Children who are exposed to violence can be immediately affected or they may face difficulties as they transition into adulthood.

One of the major goals of the report was to nationalize the effort to end children’s exposure to violence. Unfortunately, the report was lacking in that it failed to include police violence among the types of violence that youth may be exposed to.

Police violence encompasses much more than just police killings of citizens. Extreme police violence includes harassment, threats of serious bodily injury; rough hand-cuffing; rough frisking and frisking under clothing; strip searching; tasering; pepper spraying; firing, pointing or brandishing of weapon; deployment of police dogs; pulling or pushing; stepping on or kicking; hitting with an object; and the use of chokeholds.

Children are exposed to this police violence in many ways that can affect them. Children experience this in their homes when police execute warrants or respond to emergency calls. Children observe police interactions with others on the streets in their communities. Children encounter police inside their schools. Social media, news, and the Internet are where most children are exposed to the negative interactions and violence between police and juveniles.

Children learn from a young very age. They can handle complex information and experiences and process them. Because children are being exposed to the violent actions of police either firsthand or secondhand, they are easily able to perceive the police as bad. These experiences also prepare children to be more wary of police in the future.

Developing perceptions of law enforcement as illegitimate also causes children to interact with police and may affect safety and security. Children who negatively view police make more significant efforts to avoid them, including fleeing from police, which may cause them in turn to use force against the child perpetuating the problem. These children are also less likely to call the police for assistance.

How do we fix this? A coordinated response must be taken to alleviate children exposure to violence by the police. More evidence, through systematic and critical data gathering and analysis, needs to be examined from children’s exposure to police violence. Once collected, this data can be incorporated into programing that positively educates children about police, fosters positive youth-police relationships, and helps children understand the complexity of law enforcement work.

This shortcoming in today’s understanding of children needs to be addressed. Violence between youth and police is a major problem and the lasting effects are still unknown in many ways.




[i] U.S. Department of Justice, Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence (2012), available

at http://www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood/cev-rpt-full.pdf.