• Article

Police Perceptions and Contact Among People With Mental Illnesses


Desmarais, S. L., Livingston, J. D., Greaves, C. L., Johnson, K. L., Verdun-Jones, S., Parent, R., & Brink, J. (2014). Police Perceptions and Contact Among People With Mental Illnesses: Comparisons With a General Population Survey. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(4), 431-442. DOI: 10.1037/law0000023


Though studies have surveyed police officers' perceptions of people with mental illnesses (PMI), few have examined perceptions held by PMI regarding the police, and none have compared them with those held by the general population. This study sought to (a) examine perceptions of police held by PMI, (b) compare them to perceptions held by the general population, and (c) explore whether differences between PMI and general population perceptions are attributable to contact with the police in the past year. We drew data from a survey of 244 PMI and the 2009 Canadian General Social Survey (GSS) (Brennan, 2011). Both surveys administered the same items querying perceptions of and contact with the police in the prior 12 months. GSS participants were individually matched to PMI participants on sociodemographic characteristics (n = 225 per group). Overall, participants held fairly positive perceptions of the police, but perceptions held by GSS participants were more positive than those held by PMI participants. PMI participants were more likely than GSS participants to have contact with the police in the prior 12 months. In multivariate models, perceptions differed between PMI and GSS participants for police performance in being approachable and treating people fairly, and overall confidence in police; police contact was not associated with perceptions nor did it moderate effects of participant group. Consistent with the procedural justice framework, fair and equitable treatment appears to be of primary relevance to PMI perceptions of the police. Further efforts are needed to improve PMI perceptions of the police in these areas.