Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Law Enforcement

A minor’s interaction with law enforcement officers and agencies is typically his or her first experience with the juvenile justice system, which begins with the arrest process. Minors are entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as adults and special rules govern how officers can question and treat juveniles who are arrested for criminal offenses. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies nationwide are taking a larger role in juvenile justice reform and ensuring that young offenders are treated fairly and ethically.

Juvenile Arrests

A police officer may arrest or detain a minor for both felony and misdemeanor level offenses. Unlike arresting adults, which requires that the police officer personally witness the commission of a misdemeanor, police officers can arrest minors as long as they have probable cause to believe that the minor committed a criminal offense. In many cases, the minor will be arrest for truancy.

The police must immediately notify the minor’s parent or legal guardian of the arrest and the minor is allowed to make two phone calls. Minors can be questioned by the police pursuant to Miranda rules. The Supreme Court has ruled that a minor’s age may be taken into account when determining whether or not there was a Miranda violation.

Once a minor has been arrested, the police have a number of options. The minor can be released with a warning or can be referred to a local community agency for counseling. The minor can also be cited out and provided a referral to report to juvenile probation, where the case would be referred for a future court date in juvenile court. Law enforcement has a certain amount of discretion as to what cases to submit to Juvenile Probation and the District Attorney for filing consideration and which offenders can be released or sent home to their parents with a warning.

For more serious offenses or where the minor has a juvenile record or is already on probation, the minor can be kept in custody and referred to a detention facility operated by juvenile probation. The minor cannot be housed with adult offenders.

Juvenile Policing

There are a number of issues regarding the policing of minors by local law enforcement agencies. While minors are entitled to the same Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, there are many exceptions that apply to young people. Unlike adults, minors can be stopped and even arrested for truancy or local curfew violations that often expand into searches of the minor’s person or property. Law enforcement and schools can also search lockers and minors may not have the same privacy rights as adults.

This can often lead to police profiling and harassment of young people, especially young people of color. This can lead to civil rights violations and many organizations monitor statistics regarding juvenile arrests to ensure that police are not harassing or violating the rights of minors. In recent years, many police departments have started assigning peace officers to local high schools to guard against the threats posed by drugs, gangs, weapons and even school shooters. This has created a number of concerns, especially regarding the criminalization of typical teenage behavior and the use of excessive force against children by adult officers.