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People diagnosed with mental illnesses are often confronted with stigmatization and discrimination because they are stereotyped as dangerous and unpredictable. Police officers are typically the first to respond to a potentially dangerous mentally ill person and therefore, it is important to understand how police officers’ perceive mentally ill persons and how they respond to a call regarding a suspect displaying symptoms associated with mentally illness. Sixty police officers read one of six vignettes involving a call to investigate a suspicious male loitering behind a store. The vignettes differed only on the perceived severity of the mental illness (mild or severe) and the mental illness type (schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, or everyday troubles). Police officers responded to items concerning the suspect’s dangerousness, fear, likelihood to detain, and sympathy. Overall, police perceived suspects displaying symptoms consistent with schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder as more dangerous and more likely to detain. Police also rated severe mental illnesses as more dangerous with a higher likelihood to detain compared to suspects with mild mental illnesses. These findings suggest that police officers perceive and react differently to suspects with a possible mental illness compared to non-mentally ill suspects which indicates that further police training regarding the mentally ill is necessary.

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Psychology Commons