Increasing community connection could reduce violent encounters between police and young black men

Charlie Plain | February 25, 2020

Police are three times more likely to kill black men compared to white men. A new School of Public Health study surveyed various stakeholders to learn why they think violent encounters between law enforcement and young black men occur in their communities.

PhD student Collin Calvert smiling
Lead author and PhD student Collin Calvert

The study, led by PhD student Collin Calvert and co-authored by faculty Rhonda Jones-Webb and Sonya Brady, was published in the Journal of Urban Health. The research follows a previous study focused on preventing violent encounters between police and young black men.

The study surveyed 48 key stakeholders in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota from four groups: young black men aged 14-24 years, parents and educators, police officers, and staff in youth-serving organizations. The stakeholders were asked to:

  • identify causes of violent encounters between police and young black men; 
  • describe police officers who serve in their communities; 
  • describe interactions between police and young black men. 

The study found:

  • except for police, all stakeholder groups felt violent encounters between police and young black men were caused by officers lacking a connection with their communities;
  • fear and distrust across stakeholder groups was also seen as a cause of violent encounters — with youth fearing police after having seen or heard of violent encounters and officers fearing youth due to the availability of firearms and previous assaults on officers; 
  • several stakeholder groups said racism and prejudice among police was another cause of violence between police and young black men; 
  • positive interactions between police and youth were seen as the result of established, trusting relationships developed over time. 

“Any organization that wants to address violent encounters between police and young black youth should note where there is common ground in perceptions because it’s going to take cooperation between groups — police officers, teachers, youth organizations, health care providers and others — to address the issue,” says Calvert.

In addition to finding common ground, Calvert said it’s just as important to know where stakeholders disagree so that they can be prepared for pushback and to compromise.

For creating solutions, Calvert recommends focusing on the finding that routine, peaceful experiences with officers in communities did a lot to build trust between residents and law enforcement. Calvert suggests police and policymakers increase the frequency of programs designed to strengthen ties within communities, as well as develop new regulations and practices to build connections and prevent violent encounters.

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