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Research in Brief: The Milwaukee Police Department Presents Students Talking It Over with Police Program

By Kimberly D. Hassell, PhD; Tina L. Freiburger, PhD; Terrence Gordon, Captain; Delmar Williams, Sergeant; William Singleton, Police Officer; and Cullin Weiskopf, Police Officer, Milwaukee Police Department

The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column features evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies. The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.

In qualitative studies of police legitimacy, youth frequently report that police stop and question them for “no reason.”1 In fact, in most qualitative studies of young people’s perceptions of police, findings indicate that youths are frustrated by police actions.2

The fundamental problem may be that young people simply do not understand police behavior and appropriate conduct during encounters. They have never been taught basic information about police practices and the appropriate ways of dealing with police encounters and potential conflict.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the direction of Chief Edward Flynn, the Community Prosecution Unit (CPU) at District Five created a program to address the future young leaders (that is, informal leaders who act as role models for other youths) in the community regarding police behavior. The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) created Students Talking It Over with Police (STOP) to address the relationship that exists between youths and police and to decrease the chances of volatile encounters on the street. The District 5 CPU conceptualized a curriculum to educate youth on the nature of urban police work, the necessity of tactics such as traffic stops and field interviews, and about how both officers and citizens should conduct themselves during encounters. Youth who complete the program attend a graduation ceremony and receive a certificate and photo identification card that they are encouraged to use in any interactions with the police. Partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM), the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, and two professors at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM), officers reached out to more than 600 youths residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The MPD evaluated the STOP program using a three-group randomized experimental design. The experimental group (N=160) received the STOP session with the police officers and attended a graduation. The first control group (N=142), referred to as the UWM group, received the same information that was presented at the STOP sessions but was facilitated solely by the professors. The last group was the second control group (N=175), which did not receive any information. Using the three groups allowed the authors to determine whether the information was effective in achieving the three outcome goals and the importance of having police officers facilitate the program.

Before any sessions, the BGCGM organized orientations. The orientations’ purpose was to introduce youth to the police officers, allow all participants to complete the pretest, and conduct the random assignment. Six groups of approximately 12 BGCGM members were bused to a central club location for each of eight designated orientations. After the participants completed the pretest, the authors randomly assigned the participants into one of the three groups. Among the STOP and the UWM participants, the authors administered the post-test after each session concluded. The control group received the post-test from a BGCGM club manager during the same week that the STOP and UWM sessions were held.

In the STOP group, the majority of respondents were female; in the UWM and the control groups, the majority of respondents were male. The majority of participants in all three groups were black, followed by Hispanic, followed by multiracial. Only the UWM group included white youth (two). This is consistent with the racial makeup of the BGCGM members, as the majority of BGCGM members are black (74 percent) or Hispanic (18 percent); only 5 percent are white. Regarding age distribution, the youth were slightly older in the UWM group than in the other two groups.

Participants’ attitudes regarding the police were assessed using an 11-item question scale. A t-test revealed that a statistically significant difference exists between the STOP participants’ police perceptions in the pre-test and post-test, with STOP participants having a more favorable view of the police (t=7.42, p<.001, GSM=-.303). Neither the UWM group nor the control group experienced a significant change in perceptions. The participants also were asked questions to assess their knowledge of the police. From these questions, two indexes were created. The first represented questions regarding general information about the police. The t-test of the pretest and post-test indicated that youths’ general police knowledge was significantly improved if they participated in the STOP (t=-21.84, p<.001, GSM=.241) or the UWM (t=-25.15, p<.001, GSM=.219) sessions. The second index contained questions concerning appropriate conduct of the juvenile and the police officer during a stop. T-tests conducted for each group indicated that the STOP (t=-7.48, p<.001, GSM=.296) and UWM (t=-7.16, p<.001, GSM=.276) groups experienced a statistically significant increase in conduct knowledge. There was no significant change in the control group.

The results present strong evidence that the STOP program was highly successful in improving perceptions of the police, increasing program participants’ general knowledge of the police, and increasing their knowledge of appropriate conduct during a police encounter. These findings are important as research indicates the global attitudes young people hold toward the police shape their views of and reactions to police contact.3 This study also underscores the importance of teaching youth basic information about police practices and appropriate ways of dealing with the police and potential resulting conflict.

Actionable Items

  • Police involvement and facilitation are important in changing juveniles’ perceptions of police. Assess what strategies your agency employs to outreach juveniles in your community.
  • The STOP Program can positively impact juveniles’ perceptions and understanding of police work. Interested departments should contact the Office of Community Outreach and Education at the Milwaukee Police Department to learn more. Visit (accessed November 6, 2012). ♦

1Jacinta M. Gau and Rod K. Brunson, “Procedural Justice and Order Maintenance Policing: A Study of Inner-City Young Men’s Perceptions of Police Legitimacy,” Justice Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2010): 267.
2Patrick J. Carr et al., “We Never Call the Cops and Here Is Why: A Qualitative Examination of Legal Cynicism in Three Philadelphia Neighborhoods,” Criminology 45, no. 2 (2007): 445–480.
3Steven G. Brandl et al., “Global and Specific Attitudes toward the Police: Disentangling the Relationship,” Justice Quarterly 11, no. 1 (1994): 119–134; and Michael J. Leiber et al., “Explaining Juveniles’ Attitudes toward the Police,” Justice Quarterly 15, no. 1 (1998): 151–174.

Please cite as:

Kimberly D. Hassell et al., "The Milwaukee Police Department Presents Students Talking It Over with Police Program," Research in Brief, The Police Chief 79 (December 2012): 14–15.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 12, December 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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