Keep your friends close and your enemies closer: A mixed methods study on adolescent-police interactions and trust in London

Jeffrey DeMarco

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Adolescents are over-represented in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) as both the perpetrators and victims of crime. The literature suggests that many adolescents are mistrustful and uninterested in dealings with the CJS, in particular the police. Two themes were explored in the literature: the Contact Hypothesis as a means of generating positive police attitudes and the issues of trust across different relationships including authority and the police. The study
presented explored the experience of trust in youth-authority relationships in a cross-section of young people (aged 13-18) living in London and involved in different youth group activities. The research adopted a mixed-methods approach comprising two qualitative studies (involving ethnographic observations and focus groups) and a quantitative study involving questionnaire design, testing and analysis. All three studies developed themes on both trust in general, and attitudes of trust to authority figures and the police in particular. Reflective accounts and thematic analysis showed that whilst most participants described respectful relationships with the authority figures they dealt with, for example in their youth groups; their views of the police were more negative. Expected differences in responses were found between the teenagers working directly with the police as cadets and those in more general youth work activities. The qualitative findings were used to inform the development of a new Trust in Authority Questionnaire (TAQ) for the third study, this was then tested in a group of vulnerable community youth attending one of the youth groups. Statistical analysis on the quantitative data found good reliability of the TAQ and significant association with a range of psychosocial risk factors including social deprivation, behavioural disorder and differential contact with the police. A final statistical model showed that lack of TAQ trust in the police was predicted by the negative quality of previous police contact, behavioural disorder and negative intentions to engage with the police. The research findings showed support for the Contact Hypothesis with positive experience improving attitudes towards the police. However there was limited transferability of trust from youth workers to police. Various forms of power also emerged across the three studies, with interaction of power and trust discussed. Implications for future community initiatives and youth training, and utility of the TAQ as an outcome measure are discussed in terms of the reduction of youth antisocial behavior and improved relations with the police.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bifulco, Antonia, Supervisor
  • Denney, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Sept 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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