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Contemporary American policing has routinized involuntary police contacts with young people through frequent, sometimes intrusive investigative stops. Personal experience with the police has the potential to corrode adolescents’ relationships with law and skew law-related behaviors. We use the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to estimate how adolescents’ experiences with the police shape their legal socialization. We find that both personal and vicarious police contact are associated with increased legal cynicism. Associations are present across racial groups and are not explained by teens’ behaviors, school settings, or family backgrounds. Legal cynicism is amplified in teens reporting intrusive contact but diminished among teens reporting experiences characterized by procedural justice. Our findings suggest that aggressive policing risks weakening teens’ deference to law and legal authorities.


Law | Law and Race | Law Enforcement and Corrections