Understanding how police officers think about mental/emotional disturbance calls

Understanding how police officers think about mental/emotional disturbance calls (PDF)

2014 – 8 pages, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Amy C. Watson, James Swartz, Casey Bohrman, Liat S. Kriegel, Jeffrey Draine


Police officers frequently respond to calls involving persons with mental illnesses and in doing so, they are key gatekeepers of access to mental health treatment as well as entry into the criminal justice system. Programs such as Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) are being implemented across the United States and elsewhere to train officers to respond more effectively and facilitate access to mental health services when appropriate. These programs would benefit from a thorough understanding of these encounters from the perspective of police officers. We take as a premise that officers develop frames of reference or “schema” for understanding and responding to these encounters that are shaped by socialization, training, and their experience as police officers. In this study, we examine police officer schema of mental/emotional disturbance (M/EDP) calls. Qualitative interviews provided the foundation to develop the Needs on the Street Interview (NOSI) to tap officer schema of four types of M/EDP scenarios. The NOSI was administered to 147 officers in Chicago and Philadelphia. Latent Class Analysis (LCA) was conducted separately for each scenario to examine groups of officers with different schema as well as predictors of schema group. For three of the four scenarios, officers were classified into a two category or schema model, for the fourth (crime reported) a three category model was supported. Schema groups tended to be differentiated by ratings of level of resistance/threat and substance use. Contrary to our expectations, CIT and law enforcement experience did not predict officer schema group. While the CIT model emphasizes de-escalation skills to reduce resistance and the need for officers to use force, CIT and other training programs may want to consider increasing content related to factors such as co-occurring substance use and managing resistance.