Perceptions and experiences of people with mental illness regarding their interactions with police
James D. Livingston, Sarah L. Desmarais, Simon Verdun-Jones, Richard Parent, Erin Michalak, Johann Brink
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume 37, Issue 4, July–August 2014
This study examined the perceptions and lived experiences of people with mental illness in relation to their interactions with the police. A community-based participatory research approach was used and a procedural justice theoretical perspective guided the study. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted by peer researchers with 60 people with mental illness who had interacted with the police and were living in Metro Vancouver, Canada. Among the study participants, contact with the police was frequent and occurred under a diverse range of circumstances. The majority of participants perceived being treated in a procedurally just manner by the police officer(s) who were involved in their most recent interaction. Almost three-quarters (n = 43, 72%) of participants were generally satisfied with how the police officer(s) had handled their most recent interaction. The slight majority of participants (n = 30, 51%) rated their previous contacts with the police as a positive experience overall, with 32% (n = 19) indicating that their previous interactions with the police were negative life experiences. The findings paint a more balanced picture than that which is often portrayed by the media. Emphasizing a procedural justice framework for police handling of situations involving people with mental illness is a vital step toward improving how these interactions are experienced and perceived.