Youth Mental Well-Being Following Witnessed Police Stops

Publication Year


Journal Article

The purpose of the present study is to investigate mental well-being among youth after witnessing police stops. A national, urban-born sample of youth in the USA from the most recent wave (2014–2017) of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) was employed, with a focus on youth who had not been directly stopped by police (N = 2506). We used t-tests and multivariable ordinary least squares (OLS) regression to estimate direct associations, product-term analysis to test for effect modification by gender and race/ethnicity, and the Karlson-Holm-Breen (KHB) method to assess for mediation by experiences of emotional distress during a stop. Findings indicate that youth who have witnessed police stops report significantly higher levels of depression (t = 5.93, p < 0.01) and anxiety (t = 6.57, p < 0.01) and lower levels of happiness (t = − 4.02, p < 0.01) following the stop than those who have not. Among youth witnessing stops (N = 1488), more intrusive witnessed encounters correspond to diminished mental well-being across indicators, in part due to elevated emotional distress during witnessed stops. Findings hold regardless of gender, yet vary somewhat by race and ethnicity, with youth of color reporting less anxiety than their White counterparts after witnessing an intrusive stop, but reporting greater reductions in happiness. Collectively, our findings suggest that witnessing police stops may contribute to inequities in youth mental well-being. A public health approach that combines prevention and treatment strategies may mitigate the harms of police exposure and reduce disparities in youth well-being.

Journal of Urban Health