Police Stops Among At-Risk Youth: Repercussions for Mental Health

J Adolesc Health. 2019 Nov;65(5):627-632. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.05.027. Epub 2019 Sep 6.


Purpose: The aim of the study was to examine the proximate mental health consequences of stressful and emotionally charged interactions with police officers among a national sample of at-risk youth who have been stopped by the police.

Methods: A sample of 918 youth (average age 15 years) in the U.S. who reported being stopped by police in the most recent wave (2014-2017) of the Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study was used in the present study.

Results: Although age at first stop was not associated with mental health outcomes, youth stopped by police more frequently were more likely to report heightened emotional distress and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Findings also indicate that being stopped at school and officer intrusiveness were potent predictors of these adverse emotional and mental health responses to the stop.

Conclusions: Under certain circumstances, the police stop can result in feelings of stigma and trauma among at-risk youth. Youth may benefit when school counselors or social workers provide mental health screenings and offer counseling care after police encounters, particularly when such encounters are intrusive and/or occur at school.

Keywords: Intrusiveness; Location; Mental health; Police; Stigma; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Police*
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires