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The transitions in perception of police legitimacy and bias in male youth

The public's perceptions of police differ by age, race, and location. As a child, one learns at school that they are part of the justice image in the American legal system, and may be the dream job of children who want to help their community. A police officer should be expected to be free of bias and intolerance, meaning they act legitimately. However, not everything is black and white; the detained are not always the bad guys, as the police are not always in the right. As one grows up, news and the community's opinions become more evident. Recent movements such as Black Lives Matter, where police brutality and racial claims are being protested, bring different perceptions to the younger generations, especially those who feel targeted by their race.

Individuals who negatively perceive legal enforcement have higher rates of criminal behavior. That is why the police need to understand how younger generations perceive them to prevent future crimes (Trinkner, Mays, et al., 2019). In Perceptions of Police and Bias from Ages 13 to 22 Among Black, Latino, and White Justice-Involved Males, Fine and colleagues (2021), were interested in investigating whether there was a U-shaped curve of perceptions of police enforcement and their legitimacy throughout an individual’s lifespan. It was hypothesized to be more prominent with black and Latino individuals.

In Fine and colleagues’ study, participants were racially diverse young males arrested for first time low-level crimes. They answered nine different surveys and interviews over five years about their police perceptions, including police legitimacy and police bias. For both, they were asked to what extent they agreed with items looking at police legitimacy and police bias. Covariates such as socioeconomic status, baseline ate, and type of crime committed were considered during the study.

The results found that perceptions of police legitimacy decreased during adolescence and increased during young adulthood, unlike police biases that increased during adolescence and kept about the same perception afterward. Perceptions were less negative for white youth than Latino youth, and significantly different from those of black youth. Black youths' perceptions continued to decline through their young adulthood with only minor positive changes. In addition, police bias was consistently associated with negative perceptions of legitimacy, where those who had more biases towards the police found it hard to trust and believe their legitimacy.

Studying youth attitudes towards legal authority is essential for future policies and changes in the legal system. The less trust an individual has towards the police, the more risks there are for a crime to be committed. The black and Latino community have been more affected, with higher numbers of arrests, showing the racial disparities rooted in the legal system. Because of racial profiling, it is no surprise those communities have more negative views towards police legitimacy. Though it is important to clarify the study only involved 13 to 22 years old, further research with older participants could lead to more precise results. With the results given and future research, new practices in increasing police legitimacy and decreasing police bias could be introduced. Such approaches could include more rules, restrictions, and training programs towards racial profiling. In the end, turning the youth's views about police could diminish future crime.

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