Police Officer Attitudes and Decisions Regarding Persons With Mental Illness

Amy Watson, University of Chicago
Patrick W. Corrigan, University of Chicago
Victor Ottati, Loyola University of Chicago

A significant portion of police work invovles contact with persons with mental illness. This study examined how knowledge that a person has schizophrenia influences police officers' perceptions, attitudes and responses in several types of situations. 382 Police officers taking in-service training were randomly assigned to one of four vignette situations in which the subject was described either as having schizophrenia or with out any mental illness information. Following the vignette, officers completed measures of their perceptions of the subject and the appropriat response to the situation. Officers perceived vignette subjects with schizophrenia as more dangerous and less responsible for their situation. They felt more pity for subjects with schizophrenia, and indicated greater willingness to provide help. However, they were less willing to take action based on information provided by a victim or witness with a mental illness. Officers were more willing to endorse legal coercion into treatment for subjects with mental illness. The role of the subject in the situation also effected officer responses. While mental illness label did not have direct effect on perceived credibility, the vignette by label interaction was significant, reducing credibility the most for the victim. Implications for training, practice, and future research will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006