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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– A study from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) says the way youth perceive police injustice impacts more than their view of the justice system.

The study, which surveyed 95 juvenile offenders, found their perception also affects their rate of aggression. The juveniles are aware they have experienced police injustice, but the study shows little is known about how that could impact their future behavior.

The study found youth who could justify actions that go against general moral standards, like lying or fighting, were also more likely to be aggressive. Researchers say this relationship was only found among juvenile offenders who also reported high levels of perceived police injustice.

“Future aggression appears to be highest among youth who do not believe that ethical standards apply to them, which we refer to as moral disengagement, but only when they also perceive injustice by police,” said clinical psychologist Tamika Zapolski, the lead author of the study. “We need to understand the contexts in which these juvenile offenders live so we can foster things like community policing to counter perceptions such as ‘the police are out to get me’ or ‘the police hate everyone in my neighborhood,'” she said.

Tamika Zapolski, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of the School of Science at IUPUI)

Researchers say youth involved in the juvenile justice system could benefit from intervention programs addressing perceptions of police injustice as well as moral disengagement.

“Other studies have looked at community views of police officers and how that impacts juvenile offenders’ behavior and recidivism,” said study co-author Matthew Aalsma. “What this study adds is the insight that moral disengagement, or believing ethical standards don’t apply to you, when combined with perceptions of negative interactions with police officers, is associated with increased aggression.” Aalsma is a juvenile forensic psychologist and a professor of pediatrics and psychology at Indiana University School of Medicine.

“Perceived Police Injustice, Moral Disengagement, and Aggression Among Juvenile Offenders: Utilizing the General Strain Theory Model?” is published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development. Devin E. Banks of the School of Science at IUPUI and Katherine Lau of State University of New York at Oneonta are also authors of the study.