States play almost no role in setting standards for the way law enforcement agencies interact with young people, according to a nationwide survey released May 31. The lack of such standards represents a “missed opportunity” for helping youth avoid the harmful lifetime consequences of involvement with the justice system, according to the survey produced by Strategies for Youth, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based nonprofit.
In professions where adults are in regular contact with children–such as health care, education, and day care—the state is heavily involved in setting and enforcing clear standards. Law enforcement officers are the gatekeepers for the justice system. They determine who is arrested, who is not, and who enters into the juvenile justice system and these decisions can dramatically and permanently alter a youth’s educational and professional opportunities. Given the magnitude and long-term impact of encounters between youth and law enforcement, there is no reason why law enforcement agencies and officers are not subject to the same levels of accountability, training and guidance.