Red and blue lights, flashing like foreboding fireflies against the steel gray sky. 2020 and 2021, like many years before, are marked by innocents murdered and assaulted by police officers. Many people are understandably fearful when they see the signs of law enforcement drawing nearer. In addition to the clear impacts that overt police brutality have on the wellbeing of communities, interactions with the police can have small effects that propagate over time. A group of researchers found that police stops negatively impact the sleep quality and mental health of adolescents, indicating that police officers should be more mindful in their interactions (Jackson).
To ascertain how police stops impact the health of adolescents, the researchers studied over a thousand participants around the age of 15. Participants were queried on the duration and quality of their sleep. They were surveyed on vicarious (if they saw or knew of anyone being stopped by police in their neighborhood or school) and direct (if they themselves had been stopped) exposure, as well as how many times this happened. Based on these self-reports, researchers analyzed relationships between police stops and sleep characteristics.
Police stops were strongly correlated with poorer sleep patterns. Youth who were directly stopped by the police were more likely to be sleep-deprived and report trouble sleeping most nights of the week, especially when stopped multiple times. This study found that even vicarious exposure to police stops was significantly associated with lower sleep quality. Experiencing a greater level of intrusion—frisking, harsh language, or threat of force by police—heightened risk of poor sleep quality by 56%.
Increased trouble sleeping was tied to the social stigma and post-traumatic stress from being stopped by the police. Police stops worsen anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) because minors feel helpless against officers, leading them to worry about reliving the feeling of powerlessness and violence in future stops. During a time when adolescents are forming their identities and core beliefs, their outlooks on life are steeped in fear and hopelessness.
With the millions of adolescents stopped by police officers every year, the psychological and physiological impacts of police interactions present a major community health problem. Even one instance of the police stopping a teenager can have widespread, adverse impacts on the health of his or her peers.
Implications from this study are crucial to informing policy surrounding public health and law enforcement. To combat the root of traumatizing police encounters, we must spread awareness about the impact of current police practices on sleep problems and mental health in adolescents and adults. Crucially, the government should prioritize creating new law enforcement policies that avoid inflicting trauma upon citizens.
In this study, youth were more likely to be stopped by police if they were African-American men, highlighting the need for law enforcement training that reduces implicit bias. The data contributes to warnings against stop-and-frisking; with racial-profiling, minorities are at risk of yet another health crisis.
Sleep deprivation is associated with a myriad of problems: mental health problems, inflammatory diseases, depressive symptoms, obesity, and much more. Science is not localized to discovery for curiosity's sake; studies such as this one advocate for the health of the marginalized. To protect our future generations, we are in need of police reform that promotes the wellbeing and equality of American citizens.
Jackson, Dylan B et al. “Police stops and sleep behaviors among at-risk youth.” Sleep health vol. 6,4 (2020): 435-441. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2020.02.006 Popovich, Matt. Police Car at Street. Unsplash. 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Apr. 2021.
Last Fact Checked on May 22nd, 2021.