This study used data collected through systematic social observations of police officers in Cincinnati in 1997 to explore whether mentally disordered suspects differed from nonmentally disordered suspects across a variety of demographic and behavioral characteristics during encounters with police officers.
In order to simultaneously examine the influence of mental disorder--along with other suspect, situational, community, legal, and officer characteristics--on suspect behavior (i.e., disrespect and resistance) and officer decisionmaking (i.e., arrest), three separate two-level hierarchical linear models were estimated (Bryk and Raudenbush, 1992). The study found that mentally disordered suspects were significantly more likely to be disrespectful and resistant toward officers compared to nonmentally disordered suspects. Also, suspects who were disrespectful or resistant toward officers were significantly more likely to be arrested compared to suspects who were not disrespectful or resistant; however, suspects with mental disorders were significantly less likely to be arrested by officers during encounters compared to nonmentally disordered suspects, despite the fact that they were significantly more disrespectful and resistant. In addition, once other factors known to affect officer decisionmaking were simultaneously controlled in the multivariate statistical models, there was no support for the hypothesis that minor behaviors displayed by mentally disordered suspects were "criminalized." These findings support the argument that officers view mental health status as a mitigating rather than aggravating factor in encounters with suspects. Suggestions are offered for future research. 4 tables, 7 notes, and 52 references