According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BoJS),1 between 1998 and 2008 youth ages 16-18 made up 7.6% of the United States’ population. They were also involved in 3.5% of all interactions with police. Even though 96.5% of police interactions were not with people in that age group, youth ages 16-18 were involved in 30.1% of police uses of force. Use of force was initiated by police 81% of the time.

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Approximately 4 to 5 million youth ages 16-19 have face-to-face contact with police every year, according to a survey by the BoJS. We know that younger youth have frequent face-to-face contact with police too, but at the time of this writing there are no solid statistics for that age group. We also know that how police treat youth varies considerably depending on a youth’s race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The BoJS has conducted similar surveys since 1996,2 and several outcomes have remained basically the same:

  • Males typically account for a larger percentage of contacts involving force compared to their overall level of police contacts.
  • Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to experience use of force. For instance, black youth have an overall police contact rate of 1 in 10, but the use of force rate is 1 in 4.
  • The percentage of police-initiated contacts resulting in use of force remains stable at 80% between 2002-2005.
  • The younger the person, the more likely the use of force.


Selected Data from Contacts Between Police & the Public Reports 1997-2007

2 charts–Police Contact and Use of Force

Police in Schools

The placement of police in schools has increased dramatically since 1991 and the federal Gun Free Schools Act. According to the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Nearly 70% of public school students, age 12-18, reported having police officers or security guards in their schools;
  • 61% of public high schools use random police dog sniff-searches for drugs and other contraband;
  • 11% of public school students pass through metal detectors at their schools.3

Arresting Children studied FBI juvenile arrest data between 1908 and 2006. Authors Jeffrey Butts and Howard N. Snyder, found that 6% of all arrests involving preteens were for simple assaults, minor vandalism, and disorderly conduct on school days. These conclusions could mean that having police officers in schools has increased arrests of preteens for minor misconduct.

Police and Youth of Color

Racial disparities in arrests of youth for identical conduct are large and systematic:

  • Youth of color are much more likely to be arrested than white youth; African-American youth are twice as likely to be arrested (according to relative rate indices (RRIS).4
  • From 2001 to 2006, the arrest rate for white youth decreased 9% but arrests of black youth increased 7%. For person offenses “African Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested.”5
  • Although African-American youth were only 17% of the United States population in 2005, they represented 30% of the youth arrested.6
  • Latino youth were over arrested by factors of two in Los Angeles, California and by a factor of five in Massachusetts—all the more remarkable in view of states inconsistent definition and data collection on Latino youth arrest data.7
  • Other youth of color, including American Indians and Asian youth, as well as other minorities, including LGBTQ youth and religious minorities, were also arrested at higher rates and subjected to more use of force by police.


1. Notably, the number of survey respondents over the years have decreased: 1999: 94,717 respondents; 2002: 76,910 respondents; 2005: 63,943 respondents.

2. Matthew Durose, Erica L. Smith, and Patrick A. Langan, Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2005, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, April 2007, NCJ 215243, Appendix.

3. Rachel Dinkes et al., Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2007, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education & Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 2008.

4. See, And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Juvenile Justice System, Poe-Yamagata, E. and Jones, M. (2000); National Disproportionate Minority Contact Databook, National Center for Juvenile Justice for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2008, Puzzanchera, C. and Adams, B.

5. Critical Condition, at 20.

6. Id.

7. Donde Esta La Justicia, Building Blocks for Youth, (2005). The report shows how the tendency to over-arrest Latino youth is the beginning of a disproportionately journey into the juvenile justice systems where being a Latino means differential treatment at every step of the system. See also, Broken Promises: The Juvenille Justice Sytem and Latin Youth, Cassandra Villanneva, National Council of La Raza (2008).