Police Encounters with Persons With a Perceived Mental Illness: Does the Environment Play a Role in Police Response?

Kristen Roy-Bujnowski, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School

ABSTRACT
Previous studies have demonstrated that persons with a mental illness (PMI) have a higher risk than the general population of being arrested, due perhaps to environmental instability and poverty regarding mental illness. Many believe that symptomatic persons, who in the past, would have been admitted to a state hospital, are now being arrested for misdemeanor crimes. Social Disorganization theory recognizes that these factors, and others such as population density increase the chances of criminal activity in the general population density increase the chances of criminal activity in the general population. The study applies Social Disorganization theory to data on PMI-police officer interactions in a medium-sized city. Two types of encounters are examined: (1) arrest and (2) transport to an emergency mental health facility for psychiatric evaluation and possible involuntary hospitalization. Electronic data generated by the Worcester, MA police department and Census 2000 data were utilized to test for environmental effects. The essential question posed in the study is whether these criminogenic factors apply to police interactions with PMI.

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Updated 05/20/2006