Police Discretion with Young Offenders

IV.  Organizational Factors Affecting Police Discretion

4.0  Specialization

4.0  Specialization

In organizational theory, the term specialization is used in two different ways. It can refer to a division of labour among units of the organization- i.e. the division of the organization into specialized units, each of which has a particular task to perform - or it can refer to a division of labour among the individual workers in the organization, each of whom is a specialist in a particular type of work (Hall, 2002: 52-54). We use the term primarily in the former sense, and are particularly interested in specialization in the handling of youth crime and young offenders: that is, to the existence of a unit in the police organization which specializes in youth crime - often called a youth squad, youth section, or youth bureau. However, in smaller police agencies, this "unit" may consist of one or two officers who are assigned to handle youth-related incidents, and who may work in a larger unit - such as the GIS or patrol - which is not itself a specialist youth unit.

The decision to have a specialized youth unit or youth officers is an internal policy decision made within each police force (Conly, 1978).[61] According to Leeson and Snyder, "during the late Fifties and early Sixties many police forces [in Canada] established specific sections within their organizations to deal with the juvenile offender" (1981: 197-198). According to Conly, in 1976, some police forces had adopted a specialized approach by maintaining a separate Youth Section/Bureau (e.g. Toronto, Ottawa-Carleton, and Calgary police services). In this model, incidents with youths were referred to the Youth Bureau for further investigation. The underlying philosophy in specialized forces is that police work with youths is a separate function that requires special investigatory skills (e.g. interviewing parents, social workers, teachers, etc.). Other police forces (e.g. Vancouver [62]) adopted a generalist approach, in which all front-line officers handled youth crime. Some respondents in 1976 suggested that in order to reflect the degree of youth crime, the personnel requirements for a specialized unit would be too high, and that specialization can lead in the end to "bureaucratic inefficiencies, communication problems, delays", and unnecessary referrals (Conly, 1978: 45).

Conly identified three procedural models for investigating cases with a suspected young person. Within a non-specialization model, procedures are essentially identical to those involving adult suspects. This model is generally found in police forces that do not maintain a specialized Youth Section to respond to incidents involving youth. A partial specialization model is used predominantly by forces which have a Youth Section. This model involves using regular front-line officers to conduct the initial investigation (first-contact) and Youth Officers are asked to assist or take over the investigation in subsequent stages. For example, a front-line officer would make the initial decision whether the incident is founded or unfounded, and, if founded, would then call in a Youth Officer to continue with the case. Finally, a complete specialization model entails Youth Officers handling all aspects of police-juvenile encounters.

In contrast to specialized youth bureau work, patrol work is territorially defined (Klinger, 1997). Patrol officers, like members of other occupations who work with people, may develop theories about the neighbourhoods and people which they police, that are used as "recipes for interpreting and labelling their daily activities" (Cicourel, 1968: 105; Meehan, 1993). Police administrators can try to establish guidelines for discretion but an officer's predispositions are affected by a range of formal and informal rules, guidelines, and procedures that are shaped by the nature of patrol work (Brown, 1981a; Klinger, 1997). The work of general patrol officers and specialized youth and school liaison officers have differences and similarities, which depend on how their duties have been defined within each organization.

Conly (1978) suggested that Youth Bureaus have two characteristics which lead to a higher recorded rate of contact with juveniles. First, specialized Youth Officers take a more proactive approach to policing youth through the primary and secondary crime prevention programs that are developed internally (e.g. D.A.R.E. in Peterborough, S.H.O.P. in Calgary; Hornick et al., 1996). These programs lead to a higher familiarity with local area "hang-outs" and periodic checks on youths previously contacted (informally or formally). Second, there appears to be a stronger emphasis on recording police-youth encounters within specialized forces. Conly (1978) reported that the use of diversion (no charges laid) was 63% in police forces with a Youth Section compared to 45% in those departments adopting the generalist approach. For example, in 1976, Toronto had the largest number of total contacts coupled with one of the lowest charge rates (Conly, 1978).

Although police agencies with youth sections tend to have higher rates of recorded contacts, they also tend to make more use of informal action and referrals to social agencies, and less use of charges, than generalist agencies. This observation is consistent with general organization theory, which proposes that personnel in specialized units tend to have more scope for individual discretion, or "decentralized decision making" (Hall, 1972: 170). According to Grosman, "…The Chief also engages in important enforcement policy-making when, for example, he decides to create a juvenile program by setting up a juvenile unit…[which]…may ultimately involve a higher diversion of juvenile offenders out of the criminal process" (1975: 79). Leeson and Snyder characterize the Ottawa Police juvenile section in the 1970's as an "information and referral centre" (1981: 203): its impact on the handling of youth-related incidents can be inferred from the fact that of 1,831 chargeable offences involving youth in 1977, 1,432 were diverted (1981: 206).

Similarly, Gandy's (1970) study of the handling of youth-related incidents by the Toronto Police Service in the 1960's found that members of the youth bureau were more likely to use discretion with juveniles, and much more likely than non-youth bureau officers to make referrals to social agencies. Doob came to a similar conclusion from a study of the youth bureau of a "southern Ontario regional police force". He found that officers in the youth bureau were charging only about 13% of apprehended juveniles, and concluded: "a Youth Bureau can do an effective job of screening many juveniles out of the formal system…" (1983: 161).

4.1  Youth squads and dedicated youth officers

81% of the police services in our sample do not have a youth section or a dedicated youth officer, [63] and therefore operate under the generalist, or non-specialization, model. According to officers in many agencies, this reflects the widespread disbandment of youth sections and other specialized units during the 1990's, under the pressure of financial retrenchment. Youth-related incidents are handled by generalists, or by specialists for certain types of crime (e.g. break and enter, whether involving youth or adult suspects, would be assigned to GIS). Of the 17 police services in our sample which have youth sections or dedicated youth officers [64], 15 have a youth squad that performs follow-up on youth-related incidents (partial specialization model), and 2 have youth squads which actively patrol and also do follow-up on patrol initiated investigations (complete specialization model).

Another dimension of variation concerns police agencies which are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). To the best of our knowledge, Edmonton Police Service, Winnipeg Police Service, Niagara Regional Police Service, and Peel Regional Police are the only services in our sample which are accredited by CALEA [65]. This has implications for the effect of the presence of youth squads on police decision-making with youth. CALEA stipulates the following in regards to juvenile operations:

Standard 44.1.1 A written directive establishes the agency's juvenile operations function, and includes, at a minimum, the following:

  1. a statement that the agency is committed to the development and perpetuation of programs designed to prevent and control juvenile delinquency; and
  2. a statement that the responsibility for participating in or supporting the agency's juvenile operations function is shared by all agency components and personnel (Cordner & Sheehan, 1999: 78).

All CALEA-accredited police services in Canada have youth policy and protocol that clearly affirms these two stipulations and defines the operating parameters of their youth officers and SLOs.

Because there were only two agencies in the sample using the complete specialization model, we analyzed the impact of specialization on the exercise of discretion using a simple dichotomy which combined the complete and partial specialization categories: specialization model (youth squad or dedicated youth officers: 19% of the sample), and the non-specialization, or generalist, model (no youth squad: 81%).

All 17 agencies in the sample which have a youth squad are independent municipal police services. This is probably primarily due to the difficulty of maintaining specialization in the smaller provincial police (and RCMP) detachments: only three of the agencies with youth squads have fewer than 100 sworn officers, seven have between 100 and 499 officers, and seven have more than 500 officers. Thus, 58% of the largest police services in the sample (those with more than 500 officers) have a youth squad, compared with 41% of the mid-sized agencies (100 to 499 officers), and only 5% of police agencies with fewer than 100 officers. Not surprisingly, 43% of police services which we classified as metropolitan have a youth squad, compared with 11% of suburban/exurban agencies, and only 5% of rural and small town agencies. The regional distribution of police services in the sample with a youth squad or dedicated youth officers is shown in Figure IV.7.

Figure IV.7 Regional distribution of police agencies with youth specialization

Figure IV.7 Regional distribution of police agencies with youth specialization - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


The maintenance of a youth squad or dedicated youth officers is not an easy option for many police agencies and detachments, due to financial and human resources constraints. Our data suggest that police services with youth sections and/or dedicated youth officers respond differently to youth-related incidents. In particular, it appears that the use of referrals to external agencies, pre-charge diversion, views on feedback from alternative measures, the use of formal charges, and the methods to compel appearance are different for agencies that have a youth squad.

Statistical data from the UCR Survey suggest that agencies with youth specialization are less likely to charge apprehended youth. Among metropolitan police agencies in the sample, those with a youth squad charge 65% of apprehended youth, versus 75% for those with no specialization. The few rural and small town agencies in our sample which have youth specialization charge, on average, 53% of apprehended youth; those without specialization charge 57%. There is no difference in charging among suburban/exurban agencies, which charge 64% of apprehended youth, regardless of the existence of a youth squad. [66] Thus, it is in the metropolitan policing environment that a youth squad appears to make the most difference in charging practices.

Some additional insight can be gained from UCR2 data on the clearance status of youth-related incidents. Of the 50 independent municipal police agencies in our sample, 31 reported to the UCR2 in 2001. There were too few suburban/exurban or rural/small town forces to analyze this variable. However, among metropolitan forces with youth specialization, the mean percentage of youth-related incidents cleared by charge was 69%, versus 77% for those without youth specialization. The mean percentage of incidents cleared by informal action was 27% for metropolitan forces with youth squads, versus 17% for generalist metropolitan police services. However, metropolitan services with youth squads cleared only 2% of incidents by pre-charge alternative measures, versus 5% for those without a youth squad. This is puzzling in view of the many claims that youth squads facilitate referrals to external agencies. There are two possible explanations. Most of the metropolitan police services with youth squads which were in our sample and reported to the UCR2 were in Ontario, where pre-charge AM is virtually non-existent. The other possible explanation is that many of the referrals to outside agencies made by specialist youth officers may be to programs which are not formally designated as alternative measures, and may be coded in the UCR2 return as informal action rather than pre-charge diversion.

The interview data suggest that police services with a youth section or a dedicated youth officer are more likely to refer youth to external agencies (76%) than police services without youth specialization (61%) [67]. However, this percentage difference does not capture the qualitative difference between specialized and non-specialized agencies. Innovative referral systems have been developed within agencies that have youth sections (e.g. Windsor Police Service, Ottawa Police Service). Further, many of our interviewees (whether youth officers or not) suggested that a dedicated youth officer facilitates interactions between the police and youth in order to provide counselling and referrals to stem future behavioural problems. Interviews with youth officers suggest that the specialization of youth officers is crucial to adequate follow-up with youth who are in crisis. One officer stated, "without a youth section, how are we supposed to get at the root cause of their behaviour in order to use community-based resources as alternatives to youth court?". One example of cooperation with external agencies was found at the Victoria Police Service. The primary officer involved describes the program as follows:

CRAT stands for the Capital Region Action Team, which is co-chaired by a couple of city councillors, basically to do with sexually exploited youth. I'm part of that. There's a health [component that includes] a CRT doctor […]. As a part of that, this capital action team for support of youth, which is myself […] partnered with a youth worker. The money to fund her position […] a one-on-one worker came from the federal government crime prevention association. They gave almost $495,000 for the project. So basically what it is, [is] someone from the social services side, a youth worker, [who] worked for the Boys and Girls Club, and myself, as a partnership, and our mandate is identification, interventions, preventions, for sexually exploited youth and referrals to housing, resources, drug and alcohol, trying to get them out of the trade, and charges, if we get charges on the pimps, stuff like that.

This partnership operated as a proactive enforcement team that interacted with young female prostitutes. Unfortunately, at the time of our interview this successful program's future was in question due to a funding uncertainty. Many of the innovative programs we encountered that involve community partnerships and external resources tend to exist within police agencies that have specific resources allocated to youth-related issues and enforcement. For example, the Vancouver Police Department runs three special cars out of the Youth Section. Each car has a youth officer who is partnered with a psychiatric nurse, a social worker, or a probation officer. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has created action committees that are drawn together for high risk youth. These committees contain representation from social services, the school, and police. We also found that acting as a resource to patrol and GIS officers increased the likelihood of referrals to external agencies and resources even if the investigating officer decided to proceed by way of charge.

The use of post-charge alternative measures did not differ for agencies that have a youth section or dedicated youth officer. However, there are systematic differences in the use of pre-charge diversion programs. Police services with youth squads are three times as likely to have established pre-charge programs with the John Howard Society, Boys and Girls Club or similar organizations (35% versus 11%). They are also more likely to use pre-charge diversion with youth-related incidents (65%) than agencies that do not have youth specialization (46%). There is also a higher likelihood that an internal pre-charge diversion program exists. Thus, it is not surprising that police services with a youth squad are slightly more likely to find feedback on alternative measures useful (83%), compared to other agencies (74%). Knowledge of "what works" is important to youth officers, as they actively promote these alternatives to all officers within the police agency.

It appears that a constellation of factors interact within the police agencies with youth squads or dedicated youth officers. For example, agencies with youth specialization are more likely to have officers available to spend more time with the youth and their parents. As a result, there are higher levels of parental involvement in youth-related incidents in these agencies, and informal action is more feasible. We are not suggesting that general patrol officers do not also consider involving parents. We do suggest that youth officers are able to involve the parent(s) more effectively than patrol officers due to their ability to spend more time dealing with the incident.

In many cases, the availability of pre-charge programming is an important part of a police officer's "toolkit". The fact that pre-charge programs are more prevalent in jurisdictions where the police service has youth specialization tends to confirm statements by youth officers suggesting that they play a large role in the development and continued utilization of such programs. Several agencies have developed laminated cards for patrol officers (similar to the caution cards used by officers to warn youth of their rights) that outline the types of offences or characteristics of the offender that make pre-charge diversion a viable option. As previously mentioned, many youth officers work only in a follow-up and resource capacity for the police service. Thus, they felt that it was important that patrol officers had a clear understanding of all available options to deal with youth-related incidents. Our interview data suggest that patrol officers are much less certain than youth officers of the availability of community-based resources as pre-charge alternatives to the formal court process.

The use of summonses and appearance notices as a means to compel appearance varies by degree of specialization. Agencies with youth officers are more likely to say that they use a summons with minor offences (47%) than police services with no youth division (39%). They are also less likely to say that they "rarely" use an appearance notice (24% versus 33%) and more likely to say that they use them "when no other options apply" (53% versus 40%) and "for very minor offences" (41% versus 31%).

Consistent with their greater use of summonses and appearance notices, police agencies with youth specialization are slightly less likely to use a promise to appear "for a minor offence" (6% vs. 18%). In terms of conditions attached in an OIC undertaking, agencies with youth specialization are slightly more likely to attach a clause of no association (47% vs. 35%), curfew (41% vs. 29%), no alcohol or drugs (24% vs. 19%), and attend school (12% vs. 6%). Police agencies with youth squads are less likely to use the condition of keep the peace and be of good behaviour (12% vs. 28%). Youth officers told us that they felt this condition was not specific enough to have meaningful consequences. Overall, these findings suggest that agencies with youth specialization are more likely to use the less intrusive methods of compelling appearance, except that they tend to use more restrictive conditions with OIC undertakings.

Differences between specialized and non-specialized agencies also appear in relation to the reasons given for detaining for a JIR hearing. Figure IV.8 shows the variations in responses for police agencies by degree of specialization (responses do not total 100% as multiple answers were allowed).

Figure IV.8: Reasons to detain for a JIR hearing, by specialization [68]

Figure IV.8 Reasons to detain for a JIR hearing, by specialization - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


Police agencies with a youth section are more likely to say that they detain according to the 4 Ps and R.I.C.E., to obtain judicial bail conditions, if the youth is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to get the youth admitted to a program, or if the young person is a repeat offender or before the courts. They are slightly more likely to detain for multiple breaches or gang-related offences, and slightly less likely to detain "in the best interests of the youth", due to the lack of a responsible adult to take care and control of the young person. Apart from the last difference cited, it appears that agencies with youth squads are more likely to use detention, like the conditions of release by the OIC (see above), as a means of addressing what they see as the criminogenic conditions of the youth's life.

Clearly, with over three-quarters (81%) of our sample opting not to have a youth squad or designated youth officer(s), the non-specialization model is the dominant one in Canada today. However, this figure somewhat overestimates the degree of non-specialization. In the case of smaller provincial police detachments (including the RCMP and OPP), as well as some smaller independent municipal police services, it is quite common for a Community Service Officer (CSO) to work also in a capacity similar to that of a dedicated youth officer. The great majority of RCMP officers who are involved in pre-charge community-based or police-run restorative justice forums are also CSO's. They are actively involved with conferencing and police sponsored youth activities in the community. The difficulty arises as these officers are not able to dedicate all of their on-duty hours to deal with youth-related incidents. The majority of these CSO's take on youth-related issues and incidents as part of their other duties or volunteer their time while off-duty. What this underlines is the importance of at least one dedicated person (regardless of organization size) to be involved with youth-related incidents. This facilitates the innovation and creativity required to establish and maintain viable alternatives to charging reflecting the unique youth crime issues in each community. Further, dedicated officers (and many CSO's) actively promote the effective use of police discretion within the organization as a whole.

There is also considerable variation within the partial and complete specialization models in the degree of involvement that youth officers have with young offenders. Within our sample, several large metropolitan police agencies have undergone restructuring that has affected the scope of duties for the youth section. In all cases, the changes involved either the disbanding of the youth section (e.g. New Westminster Police) or decreasing the amount of overall involvement of the youth squad with all youth-related incidents (e.g. Ottawa Police Service). For example, one agency in Ontario shifted from a complete specialization model to a partial specialization model in the last three years. Since these changes have taken place, everyone involved whom we interviewed agrees that they are less effective within the new arrangements and find more youth are being charged than before. Another large metropolitan agency in British Columbia moved from a non-specialization model to a partial specialization model. These officers suggested that this move has greatly improved the agency's ability to handle youth-related incidents.

In summary, we find that agencies with dedicated youth officers and/or youth squads use more discretion overall. Many innovative and effective programs are developed by dedicated youth officers and their proactive involvement with youth in the community within a primary, secondary or tertiary capacity appears to have positive overall effects in relation to young offenders. Higher levels of parental involvement and referrals to external agencies have the potential to address the underlying causes of a young person's criminal behaviour, without the necessity of bring him or her before the court. We witnessed an increased familiarity on the part of youth officers with their "clientele", even in metropolitan areas. During ride-alongs with youth officers, we observed that they knew the names of over half of the youth whom they encountered on patrol. Youth officers acting as follow-up and as a resource to patrol officers facilitate the gathering of intelligence and an increased knowledge of alternatives to formal youth court. In a sense, the existence of a youth squad - just like the existence of a homicide or armed robbery unit - is an indication that the police service recognizes the unique nature of this particular kind of crime, and places priority on dealing with it in the most appropriate way.

4.2  School liaison officers (SLO) and school resource officers (SRO)

Perceptions within the police culture of certain types of work can affect police discretion and their use of informal means to handle youth crime. The police subculture has been recognized as becoming a barrier to new developments in policing, such as the philosophy behind community policing (McConnville & Shepherd, 1992). Acting as a school liaison officer may not be seen as real police work (Hornick et al., 1996). This perception is part of the crime control model, in which "real" police work is done on the streets. If the pejorative connotation of "kiddie cops" "permeates to the management level, careers suffer as a result" (Hornick et al., 1996: 93).

Our data suggest that SLOs are mixed on whether their police culture respects their positions. Some indicated that their position is a "dead end". Others suggested that it is seen as any other posting within the organization. In general, we found that SLOs still suffer negatively in police culture more than youth officers.

Figure IV.9 shows the percentage of police services in our sample having each of four types of approach to the use of SLO/SROs. [69] 17% of the police agencies interviewed did not have a school liaison/school resource officer. However, this figure may be an overestimate, since some of these may have Community Service officers (CSO's), who also frequently give presentation at schools. Just under one half (44%) of the agencies have one or more SLO officers whose duties are confined to giving crime prevention presentations in schools (primary, elementary, and secondary). Most of the SLOs who act as crime prevention officers within schools can be responsible for as many as 25 schools. One-quarter (25%) of the police agencies have investigative SLOs who investigate any youth-related incidents that occur on school property, as well as giving crime prevention presentations. A fair number of these officers have permanent offices within their schools and tend to take care of one to two secondary schools as well as any feeder elementary schools. In Edmonton, the SRO program is so well accepted that the school boards pay for half of the officer's salary. Finally, 15% of the agencies have SLO officers who are classified as hybrids or special cars. This entails the assignment of various patrol officers to make presentations at the local schools and, if on duty, to respond to school-related incidents.

Figure IV.9 Functions of SLOs/SROs

Figure IV.9 Fucntions of SLOs/SROs - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


SLOs are more common, and have more responsibilities, in larger centres. Figure IV.10 shows the distribution of types of SLOs by the type of community. One-third of rural and small town police services in the sample have no SLO, and they have fewer SLOs who do investigation and/or work in special cars. There is little difference between metropolitan and suburban/exurban services in their use of investigative SLOs, but special cars are much more common in metropolitan services.

Figure IV.10 Functions of SLOs/SROs, by type of community

Figure IV.10 Functions of SLOs/SROs, by type fo community - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


SLOs are also more common in independent municipal agencies, of which 90% have SLOs of any type, and 50% have investigative SLOs. Among provincial police detachments in the sample (including RCMP and OPP), 73% have SLOs, and only 25% have investigative SLOs. The regional distribution of police services with SLOs is shown in Figure IV.11.

Figure IV.11 Regional distribution of police agencies with SLOs/SROs

Figure IV.11 REgional distribution of police agencies with SLOs/SROs - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


Police services which have a youth squad are also very likely to have school liaison officers. Of the 17 police agencies with youth squads, 16 also have SLOs. On the other hand, an additional 58 agencies in our sample have SLOs, but no youth squad or dedicated youth officer. Thus, it appears that the assignment of officers as SLOs is a distinct phenomenon - one which indicates a commitment of resources to dealing with youth crime, but much less of a commitment than the maintenance of dedicated youth officers.

How does the presence of SLOs in a police service affect their decision-making with youth? It appears to have less effect than the presence of a youth squad or youth officers, but differences still emerge regarding certain types of informal action, pre-charge diversion, and compelling appearance.

UCR data on the proportion of apprehended youth who were charged in 1998 to 2000 suggest that the presence of SLOs, especially investigative or hybrid SLOs, slightly reduces the use of charging with young offenders. Although investigative and hybrid SLOs tend to be found in metropolitan agencies, which tend to have higher rates of charging, the average proportion of youth charged by agencies in the sample with investigative or hybrid SLOs was 62%, compared with 66% in agencies with no SLO or crime prevention SLOs. Looking only at independent municipal forces, the proportions of apprehended youth who were charged by agencies with no SLOs, crime prevention SLOs, investigative SLOs, and hybrid SLOs, are 73%, 64%, 62%, and 62% respectively.

The same conclusion can be drawn from evidence from the 44 agencies in our sample which report to the UCR2 survey. Figure IV.12 shows the distribution of the clearance statuses of youth-related incidents reported by these agencies in 2001. Police agencies which have SLOs, and which give more responsibilities to them, tend to have lower rates of charging and higher rates of informal action and pre-charge diversion.

Figure IV.12 Clearance status of youth-related incidents, by type of SLO, 2001

Figure IV.12 Clearance status of youth-related incidents, by type of SLO, 2001 - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.


Source: Incident-Based UCR Survey, 2001.

According to the interview data, there were no differences among police agencies with the four modes of deployment of SLO [70] in the use of informal action in general, informal warnings, formal warnings, parental involvement, or taking the youth home. However, there were some differences in responses concerning questioning the young person at home or at the police station and referrals to external agencies. Police officers are more likely to question the youth at home or at the police station if the organization does not have an SLO (27%) or has SLOs limited to crime prevention presentations (38%) than if there are investigative SLOs or special cars (14%). An interesting relationship is evident between the type of SLOs and the use of referrals to external agencies as a form of informal action. Police services with no SLOs are less likely to make referrals (45%) than services that have SLOs who only make presentations (52%), SLOs who do investigation (68%), or hybrid SLOs (80%). It is striking that agencies with special cars reported the highest percentage of making referrals, and this confirms the conclusion from UCR2 data (Figure IV.12). As in the analysis of the concomitants of youth squads, we did not find any differences related to types of SLOs in the tracking of informal warnings.

However, as with youth squads, we also find that the presence of investigative SLOs has an effect on the use of pre-charge diversion. Overall, organizations without SLOs are less likely to indicate the use of pre-charge diversion (40%) than police services with investigative SLOs (60%). Of the various types of pre-charge diversion, police agencies with SLOs who make presentations only (18%) and investigative SLOs (27%) are more likely to make referrals to pre-charge diversion programs run by John Howard Society and the Boys and Girls Club than agencies without a SLO (0%). Not surprisingly, organizations with investigative SLOs are more likely to indicate they find or would find feedback on alternative measures useful (87%) than those with SLOs that only make presentations (71%) and those without SLOs (55%).

There were no differences in the use of summonses; however, the use of appearance notices appears to be related to the type of SLOs. Police services with investigative SLOs are more likely to say that they use an appearance notice when none of the other options apply (53%) than organizations which have no SLOs, or SLOs who only give presentations (32%). Further, agencies with SLOs of any kind are more likely to use an appearance notice for very minor offences (31%) than police services with no SLOs (13%).

No differences were found in the use of PTAs, OIC undertakings or reasons to detain until a judicial interim release hearing. The only exception is the likelihood of detaining a young offender because s/he is before the courts. Organizations with any type of SLO are more likely to detain a young person for this reason (31%) than police agencies with no designated school liaison officer (7%).

In summary, police agencies which have school liaison officers, especially investigative SLOs or special cars, appear to use less intrusive means of dealing with youth crime: they are more likely to use informal action, less likely to lay charges, bring the youth home or to the police station for questioning, more likely to make referrals to external agencies, more likely to use pre-charge diversion, and more likely to use appearance notices to compel attendance at court.

4.3  Policy and protocol for handling youth-related incidents

There are three types of policy and protocol within police agencies. "Policy" itself is the most general and abstract. For example, a common police policy involves the articulation of the values and mission statement. Procedures and protocols are more specific and describe how the policies will be carried out (e.g. arrest procedures). Finally, rules and regulations are the most concrete and specific and allow for little or no discretion (e.g. wearing a uniform). Rules, regulations, and policy in general are discussed in Chapter V, below. Here, we are concerned specifically with policy and protocol for handling youth-related incidents. We could find no literature or previous research on this subject.

We asked each police service and detachment [71]to provide us with copies of any policy and procedure that dealt with young offenders. Also, during the interviews, we explored the impact of policy and procedure on decision-making with youth-related incidents.

Just under one-half (48%) of the police services and detachments (or their headquarters) supplied us with policies and/or protocols for handling youth-related incidents. Only 13% of the police officers whom we asked said that they found the policies and protocols "helpful", and only 2% said that they were "realistic". With this in mind, we analysed the use of discretion by those agencies that have protocol for handling youth crime. We found differences in the use of informal action, alternative measures and the methods of compelling appearance. One overall finding stands out in relation to all decision-making processes: the mere presence of policy and protocol for youth crime does not appear to have much of an effect on police decision-making; however, substantial differences are evident between police agencies in which officers find these policies and procedures helpful and/or realistic, and those in which they do not.

In terms of the overall use of informal action, there were no differences related to the existence of youth-related policy or protocol, but variations related to whether officers found it helpful and/or realistic. Police officers who find the policies helpful are more likely than others to "usually" or "always" consider informal action with young offenders (68% vs. 45%). 100% of officers who found the policies "realistic" said that they considered informal action "usually" or "always". Table IV.1 shows the differences between police officers who find their agencies' youth-related policies and procedures helpful and realistic and those who do not, in the use of different types of informal action.

Table IV.1 Officers' use of specific types of informal action, by their views on youth-related policy and protocol
  Policies are "helpful" Policies are "realistic"
  No 1 Yes No1 Yes
Informal warning 69% 80% 70% 100%
Formal warning 18% 36% 20% 50%
Parental involvement 65% 80% 66% 100%
Youth home/police station 46% 68% 48% 75%
Questioning home/station 15% 24% 15% 50%

[1]Percentages are based on officers, not police agencies. "No" indicates that the officer explicitly identified this as either not helpful or not realistic, or offered no comment. E.g. 69% of officers who do not find youth-related policies or protocol helpful use informal action "usually" or "always"; vs. 80% of officers who do find policies helpful.

Police officers use every category of informal action more often if they also find the policies and protocols for handling youth helpful and/or realistic; however, the mere presence of policy or protocol does not have an effect on informal action (percentages not shown). Although they are not addressing youth-related policy in particular, Skolnick and Bayley suggest that "administrators should genuinely consider the ideas and suggestions that street cops have about their work" when formulating and implementing policies regarding community policing (cited in Crank, 1997: 57). By extension, it appears that the same philosophy holds for youth-related policies. Administrators should balance the need for rules and regulations with the ability of officers to use their discretion (Cordner & Sheehan, 1999).

The relationship between finding policy or protocol helpful and/or realistic and the use of informal action is also evident with respect to referrals to external agencies, the use of alternative measures, and compelling attendance of the accused.

There was little difference in the use of referrals to external agencies if a police service did or did not have youth protocol. Yet, if policy or protocols existed and the officers find them helpful, they are twice as likely as those who do not to make referrals in connection with minor and serious youth crimes (68% vs. 34%). The same is true of officers who find youth policy realistic.

Police officers are more likely to use pre-charge diversion with youth if the police service has policies and protocols for handling youth (63% vs. 35%). This may be related to an increased need for procedural guidance, in order to ensure that youths who are eligible are diverted. Police officers who found their agencies' youth-related policies and protocols helpful and/or realistic were also more likely to suggest that feedback on alternative measures is (or would be) useful. There was no difference related to the mere presence of policy and protocol. There were no significant differences between the two groups in their use of post-charge alternative measures, presumably because the police are not usually the referral agents for post-charge AM.

Analysis of UCR data on the percentage of apprehended youth who were charged during 1998-2000 suggests that the existence of policy and protocol for youth-related crime makes a small difference to the overall outcome of charging. [72] Agencies with policy and protocol charged, on average, 64% of apprehended youth, compared to agencies with no youth-related policy or protocol, which charged 66% of apprehended youth. However, these numbers underestimate the difference, since they do not control for related variables. When we control for the overall provincial/territorial level of charging, we find that agencies with policy and protocol for youth have an average level of charging which is 3% below their provincial/territorial average level, and those without this policy and protocol have a level of charging which is, on average, 2% above their provincial/territorial levels - resulting in a difference in level of charging of 5%.

With respect to the means of compelling appearance, there were no significant differences related to the existence or helpfulness of youth-related policy in officers' use of summonses. However, police agencies with policies or written procedures for handling youth are more likely to use an appearance notice "when none of the other options apply" (50%) than agencies with no such documents (35%). They are also more than twice as likely to use an appearance notice "for very minor offences" (43%) as agencies without written policy or procedures (18%); whereas agencies without written policy and protocols are twice as likely to "rarely" use an appearance notice (43%) as agencies which do have written policies and procedures for handling youth (20%). The same pattern appears in respect to officers who find the policies helpful and realistic. Apparently, written policies and procedures which stipulate the circumstances where appearance notices should or may be used increase the likelihood of their use.

If a young person is arrested, police officers who find their agencies' youth-related policies or procedures helpful and/or realistic are more likely than others to say that they use a promise to appear in order to release a youth without detention (60% vs. 36%), if the youth is at the police station (40% vs. 28%), or in conjunction with an OIC undertaking (64% vs. 40%). They are also less likely to use a PTA for a minor offence. Once again, there was no relationship based on the mere presence of policy and protocol. Police officers in agencies with policy and protocol (and, even more so, with policies that officers found helpful and/or realistic) are more likely to say "we follow the law" as a reason for detaining until a JIR hearing. They are also less likely to detain for social welfare reasons.

In summary, police services which have youth-related policies and protocols make more use of pre-charge diversion, and of appearance notices. Many differences appear between officers who do and do not find these policies and procedures helpful and/or realistic. Officers who find these policies and procedures helpful and/or realistic are more likely to use various forms of informal action, referrals to external agencies, pre-charge diversion, and appearance notices; and to "follow the law" and not to invoke social welfare considerations, in making detention and release decisions.

  • [61] This and the following paragraph rely mainly on conly (1978), whose characterizations of many specific police forces is out of date.
  • [62] Vancouver moved from a specialized to a generalized approach when the Youth Section was disbanded in 1973 (Conly, 1978) (but has more recently returned to a specialist approach).
  • [63] By "dedicated", we refer to the assignment of the officer exclusively to youth-related duties not to the quality of his or her commitment.
  • [64] In some cases (e.g. some smaller RCMP detachments, having only a few officers), a Community Service/Relations Officer or Crime Prevention officer may also act as the dedicated youth officer, in practice if not in name. We classified these as non-specialized, due to the many non-youth related duties assumed by such officers.
  • [65] According to CALEA Online, Camrose and Lethbridge Police Services have also received CALEA accreditation (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, 2000). Neither of these services was in our sample.
  • [66] However, there were only two suburban/exburban forces with a youth squad - an inadequate number from which to generalize.
  • [67] Further, during the interviews, officers working in agencies with a youth squad or dedicated youth officer emphasized their commitment to using informal warnings, consistent with findings by Hornick et al. (1996).
  • [68] Percentages for attitude, lack of social services and to remove from prostitution, as reasons for detention, were not included as they were too low for reliable comparisons.
  • [69] The terms School Liaison Officer (SLO) and School Resource Officer (SRO) appear to be interchangeable. We did not see any systematic differences between their respective duties, and the choice of title appears to be arbitrary.
  • [70] Including no SLO.
  • [71] In the case of OPP detachments, we also made the request to the provincial Headquarters; and for the RCMP, to the provincial Divisional Headquarters.
  • [72] We were unable to analyze UCR data in relation to whether officers found the policy and protocol helpful or realistic, because these are attributes of the individual officer; whereas, the UCR data refer to an entire policy service or detachment.

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