police car

Preventing Violent Encounters Between Police and Young Black Men

Charlie Plain | December 14, 2018

High profile events in recent years have drawn attention to the problem of violent encounters between police and young black men in the U.S. In 2016, black men between the ages of 18 and 44 were more than three times as likely as white men of the same age group to be killed by a police officer. A growing body of research suggests that policies and programs specifically designed to reduce violent encounters between local police and young black men could help reduce the deaths. A new School of Public Health study recently assessed the awareness of such efforts among a diverse group of stakeholders in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, and found there was little awareness of programs or policies specifically designed to prevent violence between police and young black men.  

Rhonda Jones-Webb smiling
Professor Rhonda Jones-Webb

“Insights from our study may be informative to other cities concerned about violence among young people, and particularly, violent encounters between police and young black men,” says lead author and Professor Rhonda Jones-Webb. “For example, other cities may wish to conduct similar community needs and assets analyses and include multiple stakeholders to identify potential partners to guide prevention efforts.”

The study, which was co-authored by Associate Professor Sonya Brady and predoctoral fellow Collin Calvert, was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

For the study, the researchers interviewed 48 key stakeholders from four groups: young black men aged 14-24 years (youth), parents and educators, police officers, and staff in youth-serving organizations. The stakeholders were asked to identify any policies, programs, or practices aimed at police-youth violence prevention and more specifically prevention of violent encounters between police and young black men; evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts and how they might be improved; and envision any new efforts to prevent future violent encounters between police and young black men.

The study showed:

  • High awareness of youth violence prevention programs in general.
  • Low awareness of programs and policies specifically designed to prevent violence between police and young black men.
  • Policies that were discussed focused on younger rather than older youth, such as curfew laws.
  • Participants described practices to reduce violence between police and young black men that were essentially informal rules about how to interact with police and remain safe (e.g., keeping hands on the steering wheel of one’s car; waiting to retrieve one’s ID when a police officer pulls a driver over).

The researchers noted that it’s possible that there are efforts to reduce violent encounters with young blacks that are not being properly promoted. All the same, the results suggest that race and ethnicity must be addressed explicitly when designing and implementing policies, programs, and practices to reduce these type of violent encounters.

“These efforts will require leveraging resources across programs and agencies, as well as changing current police practices and policies related to hiring, use of excessive force, increasing cultural competency, and community building,” says Jones-Webb. “The findings also suggest that community engagement and involving key stakeholders, such as those who participated in our study, will be critical in identifying community-driven solutions to prevent future violent encounters between police and young black men.”

Jones-Webb is interested in using results from this study to design and evaluate an intervention to reduce future violent encounters between police and young black men that focuses on police and community policies, programs, and practices.

The study was funded by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Healthy African American Men through Partnerships (CHAAMPS), which is funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.

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