The influence of neighborhood characteristics on police officers' encounters with persons suspected to have a serious mental illness

 

 

Shaily Krishan, Roger Bakeman, Beth Broussard, Sarah L. Cristofaro, Dana Hankerson-Dyson, Letheshia Husbands, Amy C. Watson, Michael T. Compton

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

15 March 2014

 

 

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016025271400017X

 

 

 

Abstract

 

Objective

Police officers' decisions and behaviors are impacted by the neighborhood context in which police encounters occur. For example, officers may use greater force and be more likely to make arrests in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We examined whether neighborhood characteristics influence police encounters with individuals suspected to have a serious mental illness, addictive disorder, or developmental disability.

Method

We obtained data on 916 encounters from 166 officers in six jurisdictions in Georgia, USA and abstracted geographical data pertaining to the location of these encounters from United States Decennial Census data. Encounters were nested within 163 census tracts. Officer-reported data covered general encounter characteristics, the officer's perception of the subject's condition, subject demographics, use of force, and disposition of the encounter (e.g., arrest v. referral or transport to treatment services). Geographical data included 17 variables representing population and housing characteristics of the census tracts, from which three indices pertaining to neighborhood income, stability, and immigration status were derived using factor-analytic techniques. We then examined associations of these indices with various encounter-related variables using multi-level analysis.

Results

Encounters taking place in higher-income and higher-stability census tracts were more likely to be dispatch-initiated and take place in a private home compared to those in lower-income and lower-stability neighborhoods. In higher-income neighborhoods, encounters were more likely to involve a subject suspected to have a mental illness (as opposed to an addictive disorder or developmental disability) and less likely to involve a subject suspected to have alcohol problems. The officer's level of force used was not associated with neighborhood factors. Regarding disposition, although the likelihood of arrest was unrelated to neighborhood characteristics, encounters taking place in higher-immigrant neighborhoods were more likely to result in referral or transport to services than those in lower-immigrant neighborhoods.

Conclusion

Neighborhood characteristics are important to consider in research on police interactions with individuals with serious mental illnesses, addictive disorders, or developmental disabilities. Such research could inform departmental training policies and procedures based on the needs of the jurisdictions served.