Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

Childhood Trauma and Its Effects: Implications for Police

INTRODUCTION: Repeated exposure to traumatic events during childhood can have dramatic and long-lasting effects. During the past 20 years, there has been an enormous increase in our understanding of how being repeatedly traumatized by violence affects the growth and development of preadolescent children, especially when such traumatized children lack a nurturing and protective parental figure that might mitigate the impact of the trauma. In this paper, I summarize the current understanding of the effects of ongoing trauma on young children, how these effects impair adolescent and young adult functioning, and the possible implications of this for policing.

To demonstrate this, I describe the case of a 17-year-old African American male who was charged with attempted murder. I was asked to perform a psychiatric evaluation because (1) everyone who knew him was shocked about what happened because, before the crime, he had never been in trouble and he had always appeared to be functioning well; and (2) he appeared to be extremely unemotional about what happened, which his attorney viewed as either a lack of remorse or a failure to appreciate how much trouble he was in.

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