Do prior histories of violence and mental disorders impact on violent behaviour during encounters with police?
Dragana Kesic, Stuart D.M. Thomas
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume 37, Issue 4, July–August 2014
Despite sustained large-scale educational campaigns, public attitudes towards mental illness have remained persistently negative. Associated with this, recent research from Victoria, Australia, reported that police commonly associated violent behaviour with mental illness. The present study examined 4267 cases of police use of force and considered what differentiated and characterised violent from non-violent behaviours reported by police in the context of a use of force incident. The specific focus was to examine the effects that historical variables such as age, gender, prior violent offending and having a prior diagnosis of mental disorder, as well as incident specific factors such as exhibiting signs of mental disorder and substance intoxication have on violent behaviour during the use of force incident. The proximal factors of apparent mental disorder and alcohol intoxication were significantly associated with violent behaviour towards police, whilst having a history of prior violence and prior mental disorder diagnoses was not associated with violence. The results challenge traditional stereotyped views about the violence risk posed by people with prior contact with mental health services and those with prior violent offending histories. A service model that allows for psychiatric triage would be able to assist with streamlining police involvement and facilitating timely access to mental health services.