Residents who have suffered physical or psychological abuse by police — a more common experience in minority communities — are statistically more likely to suffer from depression or psychological distress, according to a new study out of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Such abuse — including being beaten, sexually assaulted or verbally threatened by police officers — was reported by a significant percentage of surveyed residents in Baltimore and three other East Coast cities, according to the study in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. The associated distress was linked in part to a heightened belief among those who reported it that they would be victimized by police again, the study found.
Jordan DeVylder, an assistant professor at the university's School of Social Work and the study's lead author, said he and his colleagues were driven to conduct the survey because of a dearth of existing research on the fiercely-debated topic.
"There's this major public discourse currently about this topic, and a lot of opoposing viewpoints, and there's been very little research data to really back up any of those viewpoints," DeVylder said. "This is really one of the first studies on this topic."
DeVylder and his colleagues surveyed 1,615 residents between March and April in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.
They found that 47 percent of respondents had experienced positive interactions with police officers, but that such experiences were more common among respondents with higher incomes and education levels.
Physical violence by officers was reported by 6.1 percent of respondents, while 3.3 percent reported physical violence by an officer using a weapon, 2.8 percent reported sexual violence by an officer, 18.6 percent reported being psychologically victimized by an officer, and 18.8 percent reported police neglect.
Experiences of abuse were more common among racial and ethnic minorities, and among males, LGBT people and young people, the study found.
For example, physical abuse by police officers was reported by 3.7 percent of white respondents, compared to 8 percent of black respondents and 12 percent of Latino respondents, the study found. Psychological abuse by police officers was reported by 15.2 percent of white respondents, 22.6 percent of black respondents and 28.8 percent of Latino respondents, the study found.
Sexual abuse by police officers was reported by 2.1 percent of white respondents, 2.8 percent of black respondents and 6.6 percent of Latino respondents.
Transgender respondents reported far greater levels of abuse than those who identified as male or female. For example, 18.2 percent of transgender respondents reported sexual abuse by officers, compared to 3.7 percent of male respondents and 2 percent of female respondents. Gay and lesbian respondents also reported higher levels of abuse than straight respondents.
Statistically-significant correlations were found between all kinds of abuse by police and depression and phsychological distress, the study found. There was not a negative or positive correlation between positive police encounters and depression or distress.
The study does not break out specific demographic responses per city, as it did for the entire pool of respondents, but DeVylder said there was little variance in the demographic responses among the cities.
In Baltimore, 41.2 percent of respondents reported having had a positive encounter with a police officer. Physical violence by an officer was reported by 3.1 percent of respondents, while 1.3 percent reported physical violence by an officer using a weapon, 2.2 percent reported sexual violence by an officer, 17.4 percent reported being psychologically victimized by an officer, and 17.3 percent reported police neglect.