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Police Discretion and Encounters With People Experiencing Mental Illness: The Significant Factors

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 37 Issue: 12 Dated: December 2010 Pages: 1392-1405
Joel W. Godfredson; James R.P. Ogloff; Stuart D.M. Thomas; Stefan Luebbers
Date Published
December 2010
14 pages
This study examined police discretion following a hypothetical encounter with a person experiencing mental illness.
Police discretion as it applies to encounters with people experiencing mental illness has far-reaching implications. In this study, some of the factors that are related to police officers' decisions following encounters with people experiencing mental illness were explored. Officers in Australia were presented with one of three videos depicting a police encounter with an individual who was either mentally ill, not mentally ill, or with an ambiguous mental state. Participants were asked how they would "likely" and "ideally" resolve the encounter. Discriminant function analysis revealed that officers' responses were related to (a) the severity of symptoms presented and (b) the officers' attitudes toward people experiencing mental illness, as measured by an attitudes questionnaire. There was a discrepancy between participants' likely and ideal outcomes to the scenarios, which supported the well-known fact that police officers face considerable obstacles when attempting to resolve encounters with people experiencing mental illness. (Published Abstract)