Good cop: Case study examines police officers’ approach to mentoring at-risk youth

Estorcien, V. (2024). Police mentoring of at-risk youth: Case study of police-led mentoring program leadership development. American Review of Public Administration, 54(2), 135-150.


Estorcien (2024) presents a case study exploring how police officers’ approach to mentoring influences the success of police-led youth mentoring organizations. The study is grounded in social capital theory, which views social relationships and networks as a valuable resource that can facilitate positive outcomes (Coleman, 1988). Police-led mentoring programs pair law enforcement officers with at-risk youth to provide guidance, support, and exposure to positive activities outside their typical environments.

While prior research has examined mentor-mentee relationships at the micro-level, this study aims to analyze mentors’ approaches that contribute to programmatic success at the macro-level. The key question is: how do officers’ approach to mentorship influence the success of police-led organizations in improving youths’ academic, behavioral, and social skills?


The study employed a qualitative case study approach focused on a police-led mentoring program in a major urban area in the southeastern United States. Data collection included:

– 25 semi-structured virtual interviews with 5 program leaders and 20 police mentors
– Participant observation of program activities and events over 5 months
– Review of 19 secondary data sources like policy documents and reports

Interview transcripts were analyzed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis, aided by NVivo qualitative data analysis software. The researcher triangulated findings across multiple data sources to enhance credibility.


Three main themes emerged regarding officers’ approach to mentoring:

1. Program leaders emphasize selecting caring, empathetic mentors: Program leaders described a rigorous interview process to assess if officers can effectively connect with at-risk youth exposed to gun violence. They prioritize officers with backgrounds in community engagement, teaching, coaching, and working with kids.

2. Officers’ previous experiences motivate them to mentor: Many officers cited prior roles like coaching, teaching, tutoring, juvenile corrections, and first responder work as motivating them to become mentors. They viewed mentoring as an extension of their passion for helping youth.

3. Officers stimulate students by expanding their environments: Officers engaged students in educational field trips, sports events, cultural activities, and social outings to broaden their horizons beyond their typical environments. They provided academic support, etiquette training, and connected students to community resources.


The findings support social capital theory by illustrating how officers build trust, shared norms, and resource networks to positively impact mentees. Selecting the right mentors with empathy and relevant experiences is crucial. Officers draw on previous roles to relate to students and stimulate their mindsets toward success.

The study highlights the importance of strategic mentor selection, leveraging officers’ backgrounds, and expanding youths’ social capital through diverse activities and community partnerships. Implications for enhancing police-youth relations and effective public youth programs are discussed.

Limitations include being a single case study and the lack of inter-coder reliability checks. Further research could explore how mentor-mentee racial/cultural similarities impact outcomes.



Estorcien, V. (2024). Police mentoring of at-risk youth: Case study of police-led mentoring program leadership development. American Review of Public Administration, 54(2), 135-150.