Background: Changes in mental health service provision in most western countries have been associated with an increasing role of the police in the community management of people with mental health problems, but little is known about how the police perceive this in the UK.
Objectives: To investigate police officers' views on their roles in dealings with people with mental health problems and with mental health services.
Methods: Nine in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with front line police officers. These interviews were analysed for recurrent themes using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results: The recurrent themes identified were: emotional aspects of dealing with people with mental health problems and with services, impact of incidents on police resources and on people with mental health problems, success through collaborative working with health services and failure in its absence.
Conclusions: Police officers' experiences of work with people with mental disorder in the community in Scotland had much in common with those previously reported in the USA and in Australia. Development of more collaborative approaches and mutual respect between the police and mental health service providers would resolve many of the currently perceived difficulties.