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Police Officers’ Willingness to Criminalize Minors and Their Views Toward Age of Criminal Responsibility


For the past half century, researchers have been highlighting the disparities that exist in policing and the negative impact disparate policing has on Black communities across the country. The disparities are particularly disheartening for Black children and young adults, who are over-represented at every stage of the criminal legal system. This study examines if officer demographics, psychological attitudes, department policies, or neighborhood characteristics are associated with officer attitudes about young people who commit crimes, whether they can be rehabilitated, whether peer pressure should be considered when deciding on a punishment, and at what age people should be held legally responsible for their actions. Regression analyses found variables at the micro, mezzo, and macro level were associated with officers’ willingness to criminalize minors and law enforcement’s views on age of criminal responsibility. Endorsement of community policing, trust in community, internal procedural justice, and perception of community respect were negatively associated with willingness to criminalize minors (officers less willing to criminalize minors), while feelings toward Black people, past assignment, and perceived supervisor fairness were positively associated with willingness to criminalize minors (officers more willing to criminalize minors). Implicit bias, explicit bias, social dominance orientation, and supervisor fairness were associated with officers endorsement of younger ages of criminal responsibility, while internal procedural justice and trust in the community were associated with endorsement of a higher age of criminal responsibility. This study has the potential to influence law enforcement policies and procedures.

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