Date of Award

Spring 1-6-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Dr. Wendy Guastaferro

Second Advisor

Dr. Brent Teasdale

Third Advisor

Dr. Joshua Hinkle

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Michael Compton, M.D.

Abstract

The criminal justice and mental health systems increasingly overlap as persons with mental illness (PMI) are disproportionately present throughout components of the criminal justice system, a concern to mental health and criminal justice professionals alike. In response, various initiatives (aimed across components of the criminal justice system) have been developed and implemented as a means of combating this overrepresentation. The following research will focus on one specialized police-based initiative, the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which aims to train police how to recognize mental illness, de-escalate persons in crisis, and to seek treatment-based alternatives to arrest, when appropriate (Schwarzfeld, Reuland, & Plotkin, 2008). Alternatives to arrest consist of various community-based mental health services such as public hospitals (some of which are designated as emergency receiving facilities, or ERFs) or private clinics. While the components of CIT training likely influence officers in unique ways, research has yet to empirically examine how CIT influences police perception, behavior or the incidence of referrals to mental health treatment. As an initial step, this research assessed the attitudes police have regarding the hospital and mental health system within their district. Specifically, this research provides a basic understanding of how police regard their local hospitals and mental health facilities that are posited as available alternatives to arrest, and help identify the role CIT plays in shaping these attitudes. This study found almost no significant difference in the attitudes CIT-trained officers had towards district ERF and the local mental health system as compared to non-CIT officers. Only in one of the six departments studied was there a significant difference between the attitudes of CIT-officers and non-CIT officers; with the non-CIT officers actually having more positive attitudes about their local mental health system than CIT-officers. The six departments studied had nearly similar attitudes of their mental health resources, which would barely be considered passing on a standard grading scale. While officers in this study do not have very positive attitudes towards the ERF they use to transport PMI or their districts’ mental health system, these attitudes may in fact be more positive than many police departments without any specialized approach or initiative. The significance and policy implications of these attitudes are discussed at length, as these findings speak to the need for increased attention by both the mental health and criminal justice systems. Recommendations for future research, including expanding this study to rural departments or agencies with no connection to CIT, are also outlined.

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