Aggressive Policing and the Mental Health of Young Urban Men

Amanda Geller
Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia Law School
Tom Tyler
Bruce Link

Version of April 2014.


We provide the first population-based analysis of the mental health implications of contemporary policing. Many cities have adopted “proactive” policing models, which engage citizens – often aggressively – at low levels of suspicion. We survey young men on their experiences of police encounters and subsequent mental health. We conducted a population-based phone survey of 1,261 young men in New York City. Respondents reported how many times they were approached by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers, what these encounters entailed, any trauma they attributed to the stops, and their overall anxiety. Data were analyzed using cross-sectional regressions. Participants reporting more police contact also reported more trauma and anxiety symptoms, associations tied to not just how many stops they reported but also the intrusiveness of the encounters and their perceptions of police fairness. The intensity of respondent experiences and their associated health risks raise serious concerns, suggesting a need to re-evaluate officer interactions with the public. Less invasive tactics are needed, both for suspects who may display mental health symptoms, and to reduce any psychological harms to individuals stopped.