Date of Conferral
Public Policy and Administration
Dr. Mark Stallo
The growing number of individuals suffering from mental illnesses and their inability to access intervention methods has adverse effects on the criminal justice system. These impairments increase the likelihood that police officers will have negative attitudes about persons with mental illnesses. This study sought to understand whether police officers' empathy, education, experience outside of work as well as on the job, and officers' training in the field of mental health all related to police officers' attitudes relating to persons with mental illness. The purpose of this study was to expand the body of knowledge and determine how factors such as police officers' empathy, education, experience on the job and personal experience, and officers' training in the field of mental health relate to police officers' attitudes regarding persons with mental illness. Gilbert's model of attribution process served as the theoretical model for this study. A mixed methods research methodology was used to determine the relationships between mental illness and officer empathy, experience, education, and training. Twenty-four participants completed face-to-face interviews and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire was utilized for data collection. Empathy scores were analyzed for all study participants. QDA Miner Lite was used for qualitative data analysis. The perception of the training and the officers' outside experience with the mentally ill both have positive impacts on the attitudes towards the mentally ill while on duty. While empathy could not be linked to these relationships, personal experiences and perceptions cannot be dismissed as unrelated to empathizing with a specific population. Ultimately, the police gain knowledge and understanding resulting in positive community perception of police, better community service and creating an overall positive social change.