Researchers should use implementation science methods to create and test decision-making supports that could improve fidelity to risk reduction practices. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.
Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2019, Vol. 43, No. 6, 517-526
IPredicting Early Adolescent Offending With Criminal Victimization and Delinquent Peer Associations by Way of Negative Attitudes Toward the Police
Glenn D. Walters, Kutztown University
This study was designed to investigate the effect of victimization experiences and peer influence on delinquency via one’s attitude toward the police. It was hypothesized that negative attitudes toward the police would mediate the prospective relationships between victimization and offending and between peer delinquency and offending. Participants were 2,623 early adolescents from the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) study, a 6-wave longitudinal survey conducted between 1995 and 1999. The research design consisted of 2 independent variables (victimization and peer delinquency) measured at Wave 2, 1 mediator variable (negative attitudes toward the police) measured at Wave 3, and 1 dependent variable (participant delinquency) measured at Wave 4. Multiple regression and negative binomial path analyses revealed significant indirect effects running from violent victimization to negative attitudes toward the police to participant delinquency and from peer delinquency to negative attitudes toward the police to participant delinquency. The results of this study indicate that both violent victimization and peer delinquency contribute to participant delinquency, in part, by encouraging the formation of negative attitudes toward the police. It is speculated that violent victimization may increase negative attitudes toward the police by arousing distress and feelings of vulnerability, whereas peer delinquency may increase negative attitudes through instruction, observation, and other forms of social learning.
criminal victimization, peer influence, delinquency, attitudes toward the police
Summary of the Research
“It is a well-known fact that experience shapes behavior. The mechanisms that give rise to this fact, however, are less well known. General strain theory, for instance, maintains that being the victim of a crime increases the odds of becoming a perpetrator of crime, whereas social learning theory proposes that associating with delinquent peers augments the likelihood of future delinquent involvement. Unfortunately, the mechanisms that link these experiences to antisocial behavior are far from established. Agnew (1992), for one, contends that emotions like anger and frustration connect victimization experiences to criminal behavior. Sutherland (1947), by contrast, championed the view that a cognitive factor— namely, definitions favorable to violations of the law—linked delinquent peer associations to participant delinquency. These are not the only possibilities, however” (p. 517).
“The purpose of the current investigation was to evaluate criminal victimization and peer delinquency as antecedents to negative attitudes toward the police as each relates to future self-reported offending. There were three principal differences between the present study and much of the prior research that has been conducted in this area. First, whereas many of the previous studies employed convenience samples of college students, the current study examined early adolescent middle-school children who were less likely to have fully formed opinions about the police at the start of the study. Second, nearly all of the prior studies in this area of research were cross-sectional in nature. By contrast, the current investigation employed a longitudinal design, which provides more opportunities for causal inference. Third, although there is at least one prior prospective study on this issue, unlike the current study, it did not link negative attitudes toward the police to subsequent offending” (p. 519).
“By predicting poor compliance with the law, the current study sought to test a true mediational model in which criminal victimization and peer delinquency predicted negative attitudes toward the police which then predicted offending behavior. Besides standard demographic control variables like age, sex, race, and parental educational level, which served as a proxy for family socio-economic status, unsupervised routine activities served as a control variable in this study given the role it plays in both the criminal victimization and peer delinquency literatures. It was hypothesized that negative attitudes toward the police would mediate both the victimization-offending and peer-offending relationships. It was further predicted that this relationship would hold for both violent and property victimization” (p. 519).
“The purpose of this study was to test two variables, derived from different criminological theories, as antecedents to negative attitudes toward the police in predicting future offending behavior. The variables and their parent theories were criminal victimization (which was then subdivided into violent and property victimization) from general strain theory and peer delinquency from differential association theory. Analyzing the dependent variable, first as a variety score and then as a count, peer delinquency consistently predicted a negative attitude toward the police, although the effect was small. The results for criminal victimization were more variable, although comparable to peer delinquency in the case of violent victimization. Hence, significant indirect effects ran from violent victimization to negative attitudes toward the police to participant delinquency and from peer delinquency to negative attitudes toward the police to participant delinquency. Sensitivity testing conducted using Kenny’s (2013) failsafe ef procedure revealed that the b path of the two significant indirect effects running from violent victimization or peer delinquency to negative attitudes toward the police to participant delinquency were modestly robust to the effects of unobserved covariate confounders. Findings from this study indicate that both violent victimization and peer delinquency are capable of shaping negative attitudes toward the police and that negative attitudes toward the police, in turn, tend to increase the odds of future delinquent involvement” (p. 523-524).
“Much of the research on attitudes toward the police has focused on Tyler’s (1990) concept of procedural justice. Negative attitudes toward the police are too important, however, to leave to any one antecedent condition, no matter how well this antecedent condition correlates with a person’s willingness to abide by the law and cooperate with the police. Prior research has shown that antecedents other than procedural justice can invigorate or weaken positive attitudes toward law enforcement. Two of these putative antecedents were evaluated in the present study and both were found to promote negative attitudes toward the police, which then encouraged future offending. Significant pathways were found to run from violent victimization, to negative attitudes toward the police, to delinquency, and from peer delinquency, to negative attitudes toward the police, to delinquency. These pathways are important, not only because they demonstrate that antecedents other than procedural justice are capable of shaping attitudes toward the police, but also because they highlight the role attitudes play in mediating key relationships between various antecedent conditions like violent victimization and peer delinquency, and subsequent offending behavior” (p. 525).
Translating Research into Practice
“The current results have important implications for the three main predictors included in this study (i.e., violent victimization, peer delinquency, and negative attitudes toward the police). There is no way to know for sure why violent but not property victimization promoted negative attitudes toward the police. Given that violent victimization is often more traumatic than property victimization, the victim may, as a way of coping with the situation, blame the police for not doing more. Although violent victimization often produces less satisfaction with police services and less positive views of the police because of high levels of emotional distress, satisfaction with the police is preserved if the victim holds favorable attitudes toward the police. Posick and Policastro went on to state that what is needed in response to violent victimization is a more victim-centered police response in which prior stressful experiences, current life circumstances, and the victim’s level of emotional distress are taken into account by the responding officer. Training police officers to identify sources of distress and teaching them how to diffuse potentially stressful situations, up to and including victim sensitivity training, could go a long way toward promoting better community relations” (p. 524).
“With respect to peer delinquency, there is a need for more school and community programs designed to teach children and early adolescents how to more effectively cope with negative peer pressure. Helping children cope with peer pressure means assisting them in the development of peer resistance and refusal skills, providing them with the opportunity to interact with prosocial peers in adult-supervised and structured activities, and teaching parents how and when to monitor the activities of their children. Life skills training (LST) has been found to reduce drug use, delinquency, and violence by teaching older children and younger adolescents how to resist peer pressure for negative behavior. Increasing the amount of time spent with prosocial peers is another way to shield youth from negative peer influences. Peer resistance, in fact, is an integral part of several of the more successful prevention and intervention programs available to delinquent and nondelinquent (e.g., LST) youth. Finally, there is ample evidence that parental monitoring can limit the effect of antisocial peers on early and late adolescents, provided the youth do not feel overcontrolled” (p. 524).
“Prior research has shown that delinquent peer associations contribute to future participant delinquency by exposing participants to proactive criminal thought in the delinquent peers with whom they interact. A similar set of conditions may support the acquisition of criminal thought content; a situation in which the modeling and cognitive (definitions) functions proposed in social learning theories of crime take precedence (Akers, 1998). Results from the current study indicate that people develop negative attitudes toward the police, in part, because of violent victimization experiences and association with criminal others. Programs and policies designed to improve adolescent’s attitudes toward the police might therefore be capable of reducing future delinquency by disrupting some of the paths that tie violent victimization and peer delinquency to participant delinquent behavior. One such program is the State of Connecticut’s Police and Youth Interaction Program in which police and youth interact in meaningful and enjoyable community activities. The results of one evaluation showed that both police officers and youth achieved significant pre–post increases in positive attitudes toward each other as a result of this 2- to 11-month program” (p. 524).
Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians
“There are several recommendations for future research. First, we should be testing other antecedent conditions, to include low self-control, fear of crime, and neighborhood disorder as possible initiators of pathways to negative attitudes toward the police and future participant delinquency. We should also consider the possibility that more than negative attitudes toward the police tie violent victimization and peer delinquency to future participant offending, even though the direct effect of peer delinquency was nonsignificant in the current study when negative attitudes toward the police were controlled. A second direction for future research is investigating why violent victimization predicted negative attitudes toward the police when property victimization did not. As previously stated, this may have something to do with the fact that violent victimization is more traumatic than property victimization and therefore more apt to arouse feelings of psychological distress that then give rise to negative attitudes toward the police. Third, early adolescents were selected as participants in this study based on the assumption that their attitudes toward the police are more malleable than those of older adolescents and adults. Nonetheless, it is important to know whether these results generalize to older and more criminally involved individuals. It is also important that we test whether interventions directed at one or more of the three main predictor variables in this study (i.e., violent victimization, peer delinquency, and negative attitudes toward the police) have a positive impact on future delinquency. If these variables are causally connected to delinquency, then a well-designed experiment or quasi-experiment that targets one or more of these predictor variables should demonstrate a significant reduction in future antisocial behavior” (p. 525).
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