Date of Award

Fall 12-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Kyna Shelley

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Thomas O'Brien

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Richard Mohn

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Thomas Lipscomb

Committee Member 4 School



In this project, the author aimed to examine law enforcement officer attitude and behavior toward individuals with serious mental illness. There were two distinct sections of this project; one quantitative and one qualitative. For the quantitative portion, one hundred fifty four (N = 154) officers completed an online questionnaire providing information on their attitude toward individuals with serious mental illness in a variety of contexts. The questionnaire also generated information regarding officers’ general knowledge of mental illness, their level of contact with individuals with mental illness, and their desired social distance from individuals with mental illness. In the qualitative portion, ten (N = 10) officers participated in semi-structured interviews which provided more precise insight into both attitude toward individuals with serious mental illness and officer behavior toward those individual in a variety of situations.

After reviewing and analyzing the quantitative data, the author noted that officer attitude was split between a desire to see individuals with mental illness receive appropriate treatment and a desire to impose social restriction on those individuals. Through the use of path analysis, the author determined that as officer knowledge of mental health increased, their desire for social restriction decreased. There was a strong negative correlation between mental health knowledge and desired social distance.

Reviewing the qualitative data highlighted similar results. Officers noted that they generally wanted to help individuals but had limited resources to do so. Several interviewees stated that they received little instruction on how to handle situations with individuals who suffered from mental illness and had little connection with behavioral health practitioners who might be able to help them. While multiple officers noted that they and their colleagues did not want to use their time providing psychological services, they did express the strong desire to see those services rendered by appropriate persons.