Youth Perceptions of Law Enforcement and Worry About Crime from 1976 to 2016

Adam D. Fine, Sachiko Donley, Caitlin Cavanagh, Elizabeth Cauffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recent unjust interactions between law enforcement and youth of color may have provoked a “crisis” in American law enforcement. Utilizing Monitoring the Future’s data on distinct, cross-sectional cohorts of 12th graders from each year spanning 1976–2016, we examined whether youth perceptions of law enforcement have changed. We also traced youth worry about crime considering declining perceptions of law enforcement may correspond with increasing worry about crime. Across decades, White youth consistently perceived law enforcement the most positively and worried least about crime, followed by Hispanic/Latinx then Black/African American youth. During the 1990s, among all youth, perceptions of law enforcement declined while worry about crime increased. However, recently, such trends were limited to White youth; among youth of color, perceptions of law enforcement declined while worry about crime remained largely stable. Problematically, youth perceptions of law enforcement recently reached a decades-long low and racial/ethnic gaps in perceptions appear to be growing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-581
Number of pages18
JournalCriminal Justice and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020



  • fear of crime
  • law enforcement
  • policing
  • procedural justice
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychology(all)
  • Law

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