Objective: A significant portion of police work involves contact with persons who have mental illness. This study examined how knowledge that a person has a mental illness influences police officers' perceptions, attitudes, and responses.
Methods: A total of 382 police officers who were taking a variety of in-service training courses were randomly assigned one of eight hypothetical vignettes describing a person in need of assistance, a victim, a witness, or a suspect who either was labeled as having schizophrenia or for whom no information about mental was provided. These officers completed measures that evaluated their perceptions and attitudes about the person described in the vignette.
Results: A 4 x 2 multivariate analysis of variance (vignette role by label) examining main and interaction effects on all subscales of the Attribution Questionnaire (AQ) indicated significant main effects for schizophrenia label, vignette role, and the interaction between the two. Subsequent univariate analyses of variance indicated significant main effects for role on all seven subscales of the AQ and for label on all but the anger and credibility subscales. Significant role-by-label interaction effects were found for the responsibility, pity, and credibility subscales.
Conclusion: Police officers viewed persons with schizophrenia as being less responsible for their situation, more worthy of help, and more dangerous than persons for whom no mental illness information was provided.