Police Discretion with Young Offenders
V. Situational Factors Affecting Police Discretion
The only Canadian research we could find which assesses the role of parental involvement in police decision-making is that of Doob, who found that when a parent was the victim or complainant, the youth was more likely to be charged, because the complaint to police was seen as an indicator that
“one traditional socialization agent, the family, had failed” (1983: 158-160).
In the interviews, officers generally understood our question concerning parental involvement to refer to “positive” involvement – that is, to the level of interest exhibited in the proceedings, and the level of support provided to the youth; although some officers volunteered that
“the parents can be worse to deal with than the young person”. Figure V.17 shows the distribution of officers’ views concerning the importance in their decision-making of the youth’s parents’ involvement.
Almost all of our respondents give some consideration to the degree of parental involvement when deciding how to proceed with youth-related incidents, and almost one-half consider it a factor or major factor. Many of the latter officers indicated that they are more willing to use alternative measures if
“the parents are on board”. Further, these officers also were much more likely to release a young person on an appearance notice or summons when they felt there were high levels of parental involvement. If the offence was more serious, then instead of holding the young person until a judicial interim release hearing, they would release the young person on a PTA (with or without an undertaking).
However, there were a few examples given in which the converse had a negative effect on police decision-making. If a youth was arrested and the parents
- wanted nothing to do with the young person, or
- minimized the seriousness of the situation, or
- denied that their son or daughter could have committed the crime,
officers were more likely to lay a charge, and, if the circumstances warranted, release on stringent conditions or hold until a JIR hearing.
Figure V.18 shows regional variations in the weight given by police to parental involvement. The high weight given to parental involvement in Quebec may reflect the more welfare-oriented approach of that province.
Officers working in communities with “a lot” of youth crime are more likely to take parental involvement into account: 69% said it is a factor or major factor in their decision-making, compared with 38% of those in communities with “a normal amount” and 33% of those in communities with “not very much” youth crime. Similarly, officers working in communities with a problem of serious violent youth crime are more likely to consider parental involvement to be a factor or major factor (60% versus 44% of other officers), as are those in communities with a youth gang problem (58% versus 45%), drug-related youth crime (53% versus 40%), and, especially, youth prostitution (78% versus 46%).
The only other systematic difference in answers to this question was by the officer’s gender: female police officers were more likely to consider parental involvement in their decision-making (60%) than male officers (45%).
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