Student Perception of Police: Findings From One Midwestern School and Implications

Laura Finley, Western Michigan University

While much work has been done regarding adult perception of police and their general feelings of safety in their community, little has been done to apply this to students. Even those works that do address the perceptions of young people typically begin with the 18-25 age group. Unfortunately, as Peter Elikann points out in his book Superpredators: The Demonization of Our Children By the Law, this is probably due to the fact that this group cannot vote. However, we know that victimization rates for people in this age group are among the fastest growing. Thus, students have just as much reason to be concerned about whether the police in their community do their jobs well. Further, as the entire community is affected if students choose to engage in crime. it is important to find out whether attitudes towards police play any role in student behavior. The 1990's brought much media attention to the perceived lack of school safety, prompting many districts to establish closer ties with police. However, these moves have been made with little or no consideration for the way students feel. Students already have less rights than adults. In addition, we mandate by law that they stay in school until age 16. As students see their lives ever more intruded upon by law enforcement officials we may see a new sort of rebellion. We will also likely see even more resistance to authority of all kinds. This could not only impact the learning that takes place in a school, but could also increase the number of delinquent acts school officials and the criminal justice system must deal with. Approximately 120 ninth through twelfth grade students at a medium sized (approximately 1000 student) high school were surveyed in regards to their perceptions of police efficacy and image in the community, in their school, and in general. Students of all ability levels, socioeconomic status, and gender were included. Data will be analyzed and compared to actual crime rates in the community as well as delinquency rates within the school.

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Updated 05/20/2006