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Police Reported and Intended Behaviour Towards Young Offenders

NCJ Number
Ann Parker
Date Published
December 2003
9 pages
This report presents the methodologies and findings of two Australian studies that examined police attitudes and behaviors manifested in interactions with young offenders in two different police jurisdictions.
The 2 studies involved surveys of over 500 police officers in 2 jurisdictions in the late 1990's. One survey asked police respondents to report on their actions in their past five cases of interactions with young shoplifters (value less than $100), and young burglars. The second survey asked police respondents to indicate their likely behavior in two scenarios that involved young offenders who participated in underage drinking and assault without a weapon. The response options for the behavior questions represented police legal options, and attitude scales used a 6-point Likert scale. Personality scales were also included in the surveys. The main focus of this report is on the findings regarding police behavior. For the last five cases of shoplifting, over 90 percent of the officers in one jurisdiction reported having either issued a warning or diverting all cases to an informal disposition. The most common police action in the burglary cases was to refer the youth to a conference (over one-fourth of the cases). Regarding the scenario of underage drinking, almost one-fourth of the police respondents indicated they would issue a conditional warning and refer the matter to Youth Aid. Many officers added they would dispose of the alcoholic beverage. No officer indicated he/she would ignore the assault scenario; only one officer would have issued a warning and not report the offense. Over one-fourth of the officers indicated they would prefer that the case go to conference. In the second jurisdiction, police respondents were equally likely to have administered a formal caution, report for an offense and issue a formal caution, and arrest and issue a formal caution for their last five shoplifting cases. For burglary, the most common action was to arrest the offender and send the case to court. Regarding the scenario of underage drinking, officers in the second jurisdiction were most likely to either ignore the matter or issue an informal caution. Regarding the assault scenario, the most common action was to report the offense and issue a formal caution. Thus, there were slight differences in the behaviors of police in the two jurisdictions, with police in the first jurisdiction being more likely to divert young offenders who had committed shoplifting and burglary. In the second jurisdiction, police were more likely to divert young offenders who had committed underage drinking and assault. Explanations for these differences could include the size of the jurisdiction and the likely exposure of police to the types of crimes portrayed. The results of the personality profiling showed that police cannot be stereotyped, as the two groups had very different personality groupings, with different variables being significant in each model. 4 tables, 5 figures, and 2 references