U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Officer Perceptions of Police Response to Persons with a Mental Illness

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 29 Issue: 4 Dated: 2006 Pages: 578-601
William Wells; Joseph A. Schafer
Date Published
24 pages
This study explored police officer perceptions of their contacts with persons with mental illness (PwMI) and examined the effectiveness of a police training program focused on the handling of cases involving mental illness.
Results revealed that police reported frequent contacts with PwMI. Contacts were usually for minor infractions rather than serious crimes. Police reported that they did not want to jail PwMI and preferred instead to link them with mental illness services but only rarely did so due to dissatisfaction with the current process. Approximately half of the respondents reported that they did not know what to do with PwMI most of the time. The findings suggest that the local community context and the nature of the relationship between mental illness treatment providers and police officers have significant effects on the way PwMI are dealt with by police. Findings from the pre- and post-survey of police officers who participated in the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training indicated that the training increased officers’ knowledge and confidence in responding to the needs of PwMI. These findings suggest that targeted training on how to effectively deal with PwMI can increase the effectiveness of local police officers. A survey measuring police officer perceptions of their contacts with PwMI was distributed to five police agencies in the greater Lafayette, IN area as part of a grant project to improve the police handling of problems associated with PwMI in the community. The survey measured officers’ knowledge of mental illness, perceptions of the nature of calls involving PwMI, and obstacles preventing the desired outcomes for the policing of PwMI. Following the survey, a small group of officers received CIT training. The effectiveness of the training was measured through pre- and post-testing of officers’ knowledge of mental illness and how to handle contacts involving PwMI. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze survey results. Future research should focus on which training model has the greatest positive impact on police contacts with PwMI. Tables, notes, references