Police perceptions of irrational unstable behaviours and use of force



Publication Details

L. J. McTackett & S. Thomas, 'Police perceptions of irrational unstable behaviours and use of force' (2017) 32 (2) Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 163-171.


Police identification of people experiencing mental illness is usually based on either the person having an official contact history with police or through observing behavioural indicators commonly associated with mental illness during an encounter. Police have voiced concerns with their ability to identify and respond to people experiencing mental illness in a timely way and report that they commonly resort to more coercive tactical options to resolve encounters. The present study employed a mixed method design to examine 286 police use of force incidents to investigate the association between force used on and by offenders displaying irrational-unstable behavioural characteristics. The irrational-unstable offenders were two times more likely to be perceived by police to have an apparent mental disorder and almost four times more likely to have a known mental health history; one in six had an official record of contact with mental health services. There were few differences in police and offender use of force, considering force as both a categorical and a continuous variable, while incident-level comparisons suggested that police force was generally proportional to offender resistance. Implications are discussed in terms of the need to redress limitations with the traditional police approach style.

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