The present paper contains a study on the topic of the intersectional bias towards female persons with mental illnesses (PMI) and its relation to police treatment of these persons. In modern research, there is some contradicting evidence on many of the issues related to the topic, which is why the current research is carried out. It examines the police officers’ attitudes and views to determine if they bear the signs of the PMI-related bias and sexism and examine the way the two intersect and affect the officers’ behavior. The literature review allows hypothesizing that police officers can be found to exhibit sexist and biased attitudes towards female PMI, which result from the sexism and the stigmatization of PMI that exist in modern society. Still, the effects, which the two issues can have on officers’ behavior, may vary. The findings of the interview-based study predominantly confirm these predictions. In particular, it is found that sexism and PMI-related bias can be detected in the officers’ responses. Still, there is some mixed evidence to them affecting the officers’ attitudes and decisions. Also, the findings contain some examples of the interaction between the two phenomena. Finally, the findings indicate that police rules, guidelines, and educational interventions can alleviate the effects of bias and sexism, resulting in improved police service and enhanced safety of female PMI. In the end, the paper contains suggestions for future research.
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Even nowadays, the issues of discrimination and stigmatization in everyday settings are rather acute. One of the groups that suffer from intersectional discrimination is that of female people with mental illnesses (PMI) (Landqvist, 2015; Morabito & Socia, 2015). The present study seeks to answer the following question: how do the attitudes and views, which seem to be affected by the stigmatization of PMI and sexist attitudes toward women, interact with each other and affect officers’ behaviors when dealing with female PMI?
The study suggests that sexism and PMI-related bias are a significant issue that can negatively impact the access of female PMI to police services, and the paper seeks to investigate the specifics of the issue and possible solutions. As a result, the hypotheses of the study include the following ones:
- H1. The effects of both sexism and PMI-related bias can be found in the answers of the respondents.
- H2. Sexism and PMI-related bias can affect the officers’ attitudes and behaviors when dealing with female PMI.
- H3. Sexism and PMI-related bias interact in a rather complex way, so the outcomes of these attitudes include positive and negative attitudes and treatment of female PMI.
Policing and Mental Illness
Overview: police encounters and settings
Police encounters with persons with mental illnesses (PMI) are frequent and pervasive events. In particular, they are shown to account for 6-7% of the total encounters of police officers with the population; as stated by Morabito and Socia (2015), these encounters are also typically regarded as more dangerous than those with people without mental illnesses by various groups, including the officers themselves (p. 254). Apart from that, the encounters happen in various settings, including domestic ones (private places), mental health institutions, public places during a patrol, and the police stations where “regulars” might visit a particular officer for support (Ogloff et al., 2012, p.60; Short, MacDonald, Luebbers, Ogloff, & Thomas, 2012; Wood, Watson, & Fulambarker, 2017). The encounters’ specifics are similarly multiple: the PMI can play the roles of a victim or a suspect in offenses of various levels of seriousness. Apart from that, there are mental health crises, which can also end in a police encounter (Watson, Swartz, Bohrman, Kriegel, & Draine, 2014, p. 2). In every one of these settings, the officers usually have a limited time to respond appropriately. However, the response can have consequences for the safety of various people involved in the situation (Watson et al., 2014, pp. 1-2). As a result, the treatment of PMI by police officers is important to investigate.
Stigmatization of PMI
Historically, mental illness is correlated with stigmatization, stereotypes, and bias (Hansson & Markström, 2014, p. 1). After the deinstitutionalization of the 1960s, PMI’s social exclusion followed (Hansson & Markström, 2014; Schulenberg, 2016), which resulted in their involvement in troublesome activities. The criminal justice system was suddenly required to control PMI’s deviant behaviors, for which it never had the resources (Morabito & Socia, 2015, p. 255). The frequent interactions with the police could have led to some of the stereotypes about PMI, including their supposedly violent and deviant behavior (Livingston et al., 2014).
Indeed, the perception of PMI as typically violent can be characterized as a misconception and bias. For example, Morabito and Socia (2015) carried out a statistical analysis of over 6000 of the use-of-force cases (by employing relevant reports from the Portland Police Bureau) and demonstrated that mental illnesses do not have a significant impact on the likelihood of officer and subject injury (p. 267). In general, factors like gender, race, resistance, and the type of force seem to have a much greater impact on the likelihood of injury. Morabito and Socia (2015) admit that possible explanations for their findings may include sufficient training in handling PMI and point out that there are limitations to their study. However, they still suggest that such findings, which are consistent with those of similar previous studies, imply that the typical perception of PMI as “extremely dangerous” maybe not warranted and can result in stigmatization which is based on stereotypes (Morabito & Socia, 2015, p. 269).
Effects of stigmatization for PMI
Stigmatization is harmful to PMI, including female PMI, for multiple reasons. There are psychological consequences like lowered self-esteem as well as economic ones like difficulties in finding a job. (Hansson & Markström, 2014). Moreover, the stigma limits PMI’s access to help and services through the service workers’ bias and reduced trust of the PMI (Desmarais et al., 2014; Morabito & Socia, 2015; Martin & Thomas, 2013). Finally, stigma can lead to direct violence (Barnett, Maticka-Tyndale, & Kenya, 2016). It is also noteworthy that stigmatization is known to be intersectional, resulting from multiple sources of stigmatization, including gender, race, disabilities, and so on (Dorfman, 2016), which makes it a more complex issue with unfavorable outcomes for the stigmatized people.
An example of stigmatization is shown by Livingston et al. (2014). The authors carry out a study of PMI perceptions, which demonstrates that most police encounters for PMI are not perceived negatively. However, their study still shows that about 30% of the respondents have had a negative police contact experience. There are limitations to work, including the sample of 60 Canadian people and the interview format, which does not allow generalizing the results. Still, some respondents’ complaints about not being treated like human beings cannot be overlooked (Livingston et al., 2014, p. 4). They also seem to be partially supported by other similar studies. For example, Desmarais et al. (2014) compared PMI perceptions and people without mental illnesses. They concluded that PMI is more likely to have negative experiences related to police encounters (p. 438). Given the level of social bias against PMI, it does not appear surprising that police officers can be prone to adopting it.
Police officers’ perspectives on working with PMI
Apart from the PMI’s perspective on the police-PMI encounters, police officers need to be considered. According to a literature review by Ogloff et al. (2012), several evidence-based studies indicate that, when analyzing PMI encounters, police officers tend to consider it difficult to communicate and cooperate with PMI (Ogloff et al., 2012, p. 65). Ogloff et al. (2012) also show that there is evidence to police officers preferring to handle minor PMI offenses informally, even though they believe that calling a mental health service is preferable. The reluctance to call service is explained by the fact that police officers often encounter difficulties receiving help from these services (Short et al., 2012). These factors make encounters with PMI particularly troublesome for officers, which affects their choice (and options) in the treatment of PMI and resolution of related cases.
Furthermore, Ogloff et al. (2012) point out that there is a significant amount of evidence to police officers demonstrating compassion towards PMI. Indeed, some studies indicate that police officers can be more accepting and empathetic with respect to PMI than society in general (Schulenberg, 2016, p. 5). However, these results seem to contradict the equally evidenced fact that PMI are more likely to be charged with minor offenses or non-criminal behavior (Schulenberg, 2016, p. 1) and the perceptions of some of PMI (Livingston et al., 2014). In general, it seems that there is no apparent conclusion on the way police officers treat PMI. Still, it can be inferred that they receive different treatment than those received by people without mental illnesses.
Policing and Women
Sexism-related stereotypes about women
Nowadays, sexist attitudes and discrimination against women are still an international issue, reflected in police officers’ behaviors (Landqvist, 2015). A study by Lila, Gracia, and García (2013) demonstrates that police officers can exhibit benevolent or hostile sexism as measured with the ambivalent sexism inventory developed by Glick and Fiske (1996). In terms of this inventory, benevolent sexism presupposes holding stereotypes about women (for example, their vulnerability or the specifics of their emotional life) and their role in society (as a member of a patriarchal family) without explicit hostility. In hostile sexism, both hostility and stereotypes are present. Lila et al. (2013) do not aim to provide the percentage of sexists. Still, they show that both types of sexism affect officers’ behavior with hostile sexism reducing empathy towards women and benevolent sexism resulting in a statistically greater possibility of conditional law enforcement: that is, law enforcement that is guided by the willingness of the victim to press charges rather than legal principles (p. 914). According to the authors, the approach can have a distinctly negative effect on women’s safety: the authors focused on partner violence, in which conditional law enforcement can fail to protect the victim and further endanger them by complying with the victim’s wish to drop the charges. A more recent study by the same authors with a similar design seems to support these conclusions (Gracia, García, & Lila, 2014). Moreover, similar issues are detected by Sleath and Bull (2017), who review the problem of the perception of rape victims and victim-blaming. Thus, sexism-related stereotypes are evidenced to be exhibited by the police. They have negative consequences for the treatment of women, the management of their cases, and their access to police service.
Intersectional discrimination of female PMI
It can be suggested that female PMI are in danger of intersectional discrimination. The study by Morabito and Socia (2015) indicates that female mentally ill offenders are more likely to be involved in a use-of-force incident than male ones; that is, police officers are shown to be more likely to apply force to female PMI than male ones (pp. 264-265). In light of the fact that female offenders are reported to have high rates of mental issues (Cottler, O’Leary, Nickel, Reingle, & Isom, 2014), the issue becomes graver. In general, female PMI seems to be a particularly vulnerable and often victimized group, and the victimization can originate from police officers (Cottler et al., 2014).
However, the effects that the intersectional discrimination can have on female PMI treatment by the police are not apparent. For example, the interviews carried out by Watson et al. (2014) with 147 officers suggest that a female PMI (especially if she is taking medications) is typically perceived as an easier case and a more cooperative subject (pp. 5-6). It can be inferred that the stereotypical idea of females being less aggressive than males can, in this case, contradict the misconception concerning the aggressiveness of PMI. Thus, the evidence about the effects of the intersection of sexist and PMI-related bias on the police treatment of female PMI offers different, sometimes contradicting conclusions.
Hansson and Markström (2014) cite evidence which states that there have been no improvements in public attitude toward PMI in the past 20 years (p. 1), and the studies by Landqvist (2015) and Lila et al. (2013) explicitly demonstrate that sexism is still an issue for modern society. Consequently, it may be difficult for police officers and other criminal justice staff to avoid being influenced by this bias (Schulenberg, 2016, p. 5), and the training may be nonexistent or insufficient as a countermeasure (Hansson & Markström, 2014; Melnikov, Elyan-Antar, Schor, Kigli-Shemesh, & Kagan, 2016; Schulenberg, 2016, Wood et al., 2017). It is well-established that female PMI are more vulnerable and more often victimized than women without mental illnesses. It is true for the general community and police encounters (Desmarais et al., 2014; Morabito & Socia, 2015; Schulenberg, 2016). However, there is also some contradicting evidence, which indicates that police officers can be compassionate towards PMI or perceive female PMI in a less negative way (Watson et al., 2014), arguably, as a result of sexist prejudices toward women. Given the lack of consensus in the studied literature on the intersection of the two types of bias and their effect on female PMI treatment, further research is required.
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Research Question, Operationalization, and Hypotheses
As it was mentioned, the research question of the proposed study seeks to investigate the attitudes and views of police officers, which seem to be affected by the stigmatization of PMI and sexist attitudes toward women, with a focus on their interaction and impact on the officers’ behaviors. In response, the proposed study hypothesizes that the effects of both sexism toward women and PMI-related bias can be found in the answers of the respondents. Still, their intersection can have a variety of effects on the police officers’ behavior, including positive and negative treatment of female PMI.
The question’s operationalization requires measuring the officers’ tendency to exhibit sexist attitudes and bias with respect to PMI. In this study, sexism scores were measured with the ambivalent sexism inventory (Lila et al., 2013), which was used for the study as a questionnaire. This inventory was developed by Glick and Fiske (1996), and it includes 22 questions with Likert-scale responses that assess both the benevolent and hostile sexism in respondents. The score can range between zero and five; lower scores correspond to less prominent sexism. No similar scale was encountered for PMI bias, which is why it was investigated through thematic analysis.
Methodology and Its Strengths and Weaknesses
The study is interview-based, but the method is supplemented with the ambivalent sexism inventory. Two police officers from the Suburban County Police Department (SCPD) and one recently retired officer from the Big City Police Department (BCPD) were interviewed. The former two officers filled out the inventory in the form of a questionnaire as well.
The semi-structured interviews used for the research correspond to an interview guide, the answers to which contribute to answering the research question. The interview questions include ones about the past and present experiences in encountering persons of different characteristics (such as gender, age, mentally ill people, and so on), their perceptions of dangerousness when encountering with different groups of people, and the amount of training that the officers have received in dealing with people who are mentally ill. Moreover, the other set includes questions about the police officers’ age, gender, and several years worked in the SCPD or the BCPD.
The use of the mentioned methods is justified by the aims and specifics of the study. The semi-structured interview design allows to structure the interview and guide it to provide relevant information. Still, it also leaves opportunities for an open-minded and in-depth investigation of a phenomenon (Bryman, 2015, p. 10). The relationship between police officers and female PMI is very complex, and semi-structured interviews seem to be appropriate for investigating it. Also, the method is likely to offer information about a particular person’s perspective and experience, which is the study’s aim.
On the other hand, the benefit of ambivalent sexism inventory consists of its ability to provide a valid, reliable assessment of a person’s sexist attitudes (Lila et al., 2013). In other words, it offers an objective assessment of a crucial parameter, which can be more difficult to detect in an interview. Thus, both methods are appropriate and contribute to the achievement of the aims of the study.
However, there are certain limitations to the methodology as well. The use of interviews can mostly provide the respondents’ subjective views, beliefs, and opinions, which implies that the approach is not very objective or generalizable. This problem is less prominent for the inventory since it is a valid and reliable tool. Still, a similar disadvantage is also related to the sample: with a small sample, it is impossible to make conclusions about a population and generalize the findings. Finally, the lack of an objective measure for PMI-related bias is an issue. This factor limits the possibility of making conclusions about the officers’ attitudes to PMI, and it must be taken into account when considering the findings of this study.
The collected data was analyzed with the help of a thematic analysis: the transcripts were analyzed for the existence of repeating themes, which manifested themselves in codes that corresponded to the core topics and ideas that participants had mentioned (Bryman, 2015, p. 11). The themes searched for included those related to the identification of the illness, the characterization of PMI women, the description of the situations, which typically involve PMI women, and the response and interventions chosen for the situation. Also, the theme of directly expressed attitudes was considered, and the topic of training as a bias-minimizing intervention. The analysis enabled the development of summaries and comparisons of the results of different interviews.
Sample, settings, and ethical considerations
The sample of the study (two officers from the SCPD and one recently retired officer from the BCPD) can be regarded as rather small. However, a greater sample was deemed unreasonable due to time constraints. Also, Bryman (2015) points out that the thematic analysis of qualitative data is a rather time- and effort-consuming activity. This fact can be used to justify the size of the sample.
The settings include the SCPD and the retired officer’s home. Indeed, the provided literature overview suggests that officers can encounter PMI in multiple settings, including the police stations and public places, which seem to be most convenient for the research purposes (rather than, for example, mental care institutions), which guided the choice of the settings (Ogloff et al., 2012, p.60). It was possible to approach officers directly (this approach was used as a more appropriate one in the case of a retired police officer) or by calling local departments and asking for permission to interview their officers (this approach used for SCPD officers). Both options could result in officers being reluctant to participate; they were also expected to be reluctant because of the topic’s sensitivity, which prompted the study to take into account ethical considerations.
The ethical considerations of the present study predominantly center around the protection of the participants. First, the anonymity of the participants must be preserved. They will never be identified in recordings, transcripts, and final report; fake names are used to distinguish between interviewees. The recordings were eliminated after the transcription; they were not demonstrated to anyone outside the research group. The transcripts will be eliminated after the analysis is complete. The materials have been kept at one of the researchers’ places in a secure location. Every participant was offered complete information on the study, its aims, procedures, and related risks. Also, it was explicitly stated that the participants were free to refuse to answer a sensitive question or completely withdraw from the study without negative consequences. In the end, these measures are meant to protect the participants and encourage them to participate.
The findings support the three hypotheses of the study. The first hypothesis, which suggests that sexism and positive bias can be found in the officers’ responses, is supported. The second hypothesis, which implies that the bias can affect the officers’ attitudes and activities with respect to female PMI, is partially supported. Finally, the third hypothesis, which is concerned with the interaction between sexism and PMI-related bias, is confirmed by some examples of this interaction.
A description of the respondent information is required before the analysis of their responses. A total of three officers were interviewed; their fake names are David, John, and Mike. John and Mike also completed the ambivalent sexism inventory questionnaire, in which the former scored 2.07 in hostile sexism and 2 in benevolent sexism while the latter scored 2.4 and 2.7 respectively. The scoring was carried out in accordance with the guidelines by Glick and Fiske (1996), which involved reversing six of the items and then calculating the average score for benevolent and hostile sexism. The inventory produces relative scores, which implies that John is less sexist than Mike, but both exhibit a rather low level of sexism.
A certain amount of information on the respondents was gathered because it was deemed relevant to the research. David is a retired BCPD officer with more than thirty years of experience (predominantly as a uniform police officer); he also has an education and seven years of practice as a clinical psychotherapist. He retired from police service in 1994. John is an officer of SCPD with about four years of experience in the internships. Mike comes from the same Department; he has worked there for over three years. Mike also has four years of prior experience in working with children with special needs. The three officers were very cooperative and friendly; they did not seem to find most questions sensitive to the point of refusing to answer, but some of the questions required some time for consideration.
H1. The effects of both sexism and PMI-related bias can be found in the answers of the respondents.
The findings contain extensive evidence that can be used to support the first hypothesis, including the sexism inventory results and the topics of working with women and PMI, sexism, PMI encounters, and the perception of danger from the thematic analysis.
Assessing the dangerousness of a person
In general, while showing the awareness of sexism, David states that his experience suggests that men are more dangerous than women, which might be an effect of sexist beliefs. John believes that it is impossible to “know” if a person is dangerous or not, but he lists some of the dangerousness criteria. He states that in his experience, men aged 18-35 are more likely to be dangerous, which also may refer to sexist attitudes. Still, he also mentions non-sexist criteria: for example, the knowledge about the violence involved in the call and prior police encounters of the person in question. Apart from that, John reports that some of his colleagues were injured during PMI encounters, making him view PMI as potentially dangerous. When asked to provide an example of a PMI encounter, John describes the case which involved a woman who wanted to stop taking her medication and was causing “a mess in her household.” He reported that the woman was violent towards the family members and less violent towards the police, but he does not specify violence. The event progressed well with the officers managing to calm the woman down with the help of a conversation. As shown in the literature review, viewing PMI as violent is likely to be a biased point of view (Lila et al., 2013; Morabito & Socia, 2015), but it may be suggested that the officer bases his view on personal experience and realizes that people with or without mental issues can be dangerous.
Mike offers a similar perspective: he believes that most officers tend to perceive any person as dangerous to a certain extent because they are not aware of these persons’ intentions. He also points out that stereotypes cannot help make the right decision concerning a person’s dangerousness. However, he reports being particularly cautious with PMI, although he does point out that he has never personally experienced PMI violence. In other words, Mike might also exhibit a biased approach to assessing the dangerousness of a person, and this bias is predominantly PMI-related.
Working with women and the issue of sexism
When asked to describe the females that he had encountered during police service, David states that it may be difficult to generalize his experience. Still, he believes that women were mostly cooperative and “quiet.” He states that women are socially conditioned to be quiet, but he also recalls meeting women who could speak up for themselves. Also, he states that he considers “the fact that women and men socialize differently” when encountering women. Moreover, he supposes that it is easier for him to deal with men because he is male, but he does not believe that it was a significant factor during his policing practice.
Similarly, John also recalls that he has predominantly encountered calm and cooperative women; he states that intoxicated women are less likely to get physically aggressive than intoxicated men, even though the women can get verbally aggressive. Still, he mentions that women can be aggressive, and he also reports the issue of women flirting with him to avoid tickets. Apart from that, John has heard from his colleagues that women tend to be less aggressive and physically strong, making managing them easier; he also views males as more easily “agitated.” Despite this, he still points out that it may be more difficult for him to deal with a female PMI because he needs to “learn to speak their language.”
Mike believes that most of the people he had encountered during his service are cooperative regardless of their gender. Also, Mike states that 20-to-35-year-old males that he has encountered turned out to be more dangerous, but he still points out that “every day is completely different than the next,” and so are his encounters with people. To sum up, certain elements of the officers’ views may be considered sexist, but they point out that their experience warns him against supporting sexist approaches to women.
Apart from that, the officers discuss the issue of sexism. David reports being only slightly worried about being accused of sexism. On the other hand, John is worried about exhibiting sexism, especially if some people can record such behavior or statements coming from an officer. Mike reports that he has encountered people who accuse him of various types of bias, but he states that he only follows the guidelines and the law. He believes that these accusations have no ground. To sum up, the officers are aware of sexism and the difficulties that overt sexism can cause to a person of their profession.
PMI: encounters, settings, attitudes, management
With respect to PMI’s attitude, David seems to be compassionate, suggesting that it is important to provide PMI with support and understanding; he also reports disliking the phrase “mentally ill.” He states that he is not “afraid” of PMI and does not think that females or males are more predisposed to illness. In general, his attitude corresponds to the literature review findings (Ogloff et al., 2012).
John views PMI encounters as dangerous in case he lacks the information about the particular PMI and the situation and reports needing to prepare for the encounter mentally; he thinks that PMI encounters are difficult to manage. Mike is also rather cautious with PMI. He points out that PMI can be unpredictable and triggered by events or actions that the officer does not know to avoid because the triggers are unique and personal. In general, Mike believes that PMI are not unlikely to act violently since their issue “has to do something with their brain,” but he has never had a violent encounter personally. However, he also points out that people can generally be unpredictable, regardless of their mental state. It is also noteworthy that he prefers the terms “an emotionally disturbed person” or “a fragile-minded person.”
To sum up, these two officers seem to share the idea about PMI being violent, which the literature review demonstrates to be a biased, stereotypical, and harmful belief (Morabito & Socia, 2015). However, this view is grounded in John’s peer experience, and Mike points out that police service is a generally dangerous job, which makes any encounter potentially dangerous. Thus, it may be incorrect to insist that the officers exhibit bias based on this information alone.
The officers also discussed the specifics of the management of cases with PMI involved. David reports that his management of PMI cases involved the decisions that were required by the situation, and could involve arrests, referrals, and hospitalization. John reports similar procedures, mentioning medical evaluations and referrals, hospitalization, or “general processing like everyone else.” Mike also points out that situations can require various decisions, including hospital referrals. All three officers also mention the need for situational assessment. They state that generalizations are not helpful because every situation with PMI, females, and any other person is often unique.
Still, the officers have some common tools for PMI management. David reports having special techniques for PMI, including more cautious management of the situation, which involves purposefully “deescalating the situation emotionally,” building rapport, and listening. Mike’s techniques also involve deescalating the situation, listening, and being approachable and helping people feel safe. Also, Mike states that the police department guidelines support PMI case management. Similarly, John reports that he uses academy-taught techniques, focusing on respectful treatment and the lack of discrimination. Apart from that, John focuses on the distress that people tend to experience during police encounters and suggests dispelling it. He states that communication with PMI is important and that while working with PMI, an officer has to be “extra sensitive.”
To sum up, the officers seem to be aware of the PMI’s specific needs and develop their generic tools for PMI management accordingly, while also customizing them to particular situations. These findings demonstrate that officers have managed to overcome the issue of being ill-equipped to deal with PMI (Morabito & Socia, 2015). They support the literature review discussion on the method of PMI management, especially with respect to referrals (Ogloff et al., 2012).
As a result of the analysis, it can be concluded that the officers can exhibit both sexism and PMI-related bias in rather mild forms. Indeed, the officers’ scores in the ambivalent sexism inventory are rather low, but they are still present, which corresponds to the literature review findings (Lila et al. 2013). As for PMI-related bias, at least one of the officers regards PMI as particularly violent without the experience of contacting a violent PMI (Mike), and another one reports that the encounters with PMI are particularly stressful for him (John). Such an attitude is demonstrated as rather biased by the literature review findings (Watson et al., 2014). It should be pointed out that, for example, David considers the differences between males and females as a result of socialization rather than a kind of biological predisposition.
Similarly, Mike refers to PMI as dangerous, partially explaining it by their illnesses. Still, he makes multiple concessions about the fact that different illnesses can cause different reactions and point out that he has to view most people as potentially dangerous. Also, all the officers are aware of sexism and bias, which may have led to low sexism scores. Still, the traces of the two phenomena have been encountered, which implies that the first hypothesis is confirmed.
H2. Sexism and PMI-related bias can affect the officers’ attitudes and behaviors when dealing with female PMI.
The second hypothesis is related to the same themes that are relevant to the first one. The officers provided some direct information on the way the police treat female PMI. In particular, Mike and John report that the police-related treatment and procedures meant for female PMI are completely identical to those meant for male PMI. They also report that the issues related to handling female and male PMI are essentially the same (predominantly, managing the situation, avoiding violence, and building rapport). However, John also reports that he is more cautious when dealing with males than females. PMI-related events are typically very stressful and difficult for him, which also results in greater caution. In general, he seems to be more cautious with female PMI than non-PMI females, but male PMI are viewed as more dangerous than female ones by him. To sum up, there is some contradicting evidence on the way female PMI are treated, but both the attempts at fair treatment and the hints of bias affecting the action and attitudes of officers can be found.
Apart from that, there is some indirect evidence of bias affecting or failing to affect PMI treatment. In particular, it is noteworthy that, for example, David reports being guided by intuition, which is justified by his experience when defining a person’s dangerousness. Since his experience indicates that women, including female PMI, are less dangerous than men, the officer’s attitudes and, possibly, even actions might be affected by bias. When asked directly if he finds female PMI to be more difficult to manage than male ones, David answers affirmatively. He explains his sentiment by believing that it is easier for him to deal with people of his gender because he understands them better. John reports a similar sentiment about needing to learn to “speak the language” of female PMI, but later, he agrees that the same is also necessary when dealing with male ones. In other words, the officers believe that building rapport with female PMI can be more difficult because of their gender, which suggests that their actions, attitudes, and treatment of female PMI might be affected by bias. However, David also discusses female PMIs’ anger at length without differentiating it from that of men: he uses the same rationalization approach, suggesting that it is important to understand the reason for the anger, which should help make the person less hostile. This example suggests that David’s actions can be informed by sexism awareness instead of sexist bias. To sum up, such details demonstrate that the officers’ actions can indeed be affected by the presence or the absence of bias and sexist attitudes, which is supported by the literature review (Lila et al., 2013; Watson et al., 2014).
To sum up, the second hypothesis can be partially confirmed. Indeed, the officers’ answers provide the evidence to the idea that both PMI-related bias and sexism can affect the officer’s behavior and attitudes, which eventually may have an impact on the treatment of female PMI. These findings correspond to the result of the literature review; moreover, the respondents’ tendency to be compassionate and careful when dealing with PMI can also be supported by the theoretical findings (Ogloff et al., 2012). Apart from that, it is safe to conclude that PMI, including female PMI, are treated by the officers in a specific way, which is different from treating people without similar issues.
However, it should be pointed out that not all the officers’ attitudes and actions that they report can be referred to as bias or sexism. In fact, in most cases, the information that the officers report appears to indicate the intent to accommodate the varied needs of female PMI, which naturally requires specific activities. Indeed, David states that women who seem to be excessively quiet need encouragement to engage in a conversation with the officer. Similarly, the officers’ intent to deal with PMI with greater care seems to correspond to female PMI’s needs as a particularly vulnerable population. All the officers also report that stereotypes are not helpful, and decisions should be based on particular characteristics of a situation. Thus, in most cases, the officers’ activities and attitudes do not seem to be driven by bias; instead, they appear to be driven by diversity awareness, which ensures just treatment of a vulnerable population like female PMI. Therefore, the second hypothesis appears to be confirmed only partially. A more specific result could be achieved if a more objective tool for bias determination was found or developed.
H3. Sexism and PMI-related bias interact in a rather complex way, which is why the outcomes of these attitudes include positive and negative attitudes and treatment of female PMI.
The study’s findings suggest that there are certain interactions between PMI-related bias and sexism, but their patterns and outcomes are rather complex. For example, Mike, who scores 2.4 and 2.7 out of five in hostile and benevolent sexism, specifically points out that mental illness can make a small, physically weak woman engage in a violent fight with an officer. He also emphasizes that he has never encountered a dangerous female PMI, but he reports learning about an incident with a female PMI barricading herself. It should be pointed out that Mike tends to highlight the fact that any person can be dangerous. Also, he believes that female PMI are less dangerous than male PMI, which corresponds to John’s view.
Indeed, John exhibits similar views. When discussing female PMIs, John characterizes them as reckless, eccentric, and agitated, while previously stating that women are typically less dangerous and violent than men. He also states that female and male PMI have been quiet and cooperative in his practice. In other words, his perceptions of female PMI do not seem to be supported by his experience, but they persist. At the same time, he reports that male PMI can be expected to be more violent than female PMI, and he bases this belief on reports and the experiences of his colleagues. In other words, the officers’ belief about the level of dangerousness in people of different gender and mental health is rather consistent, which makes it logical to presume that in his case, the two potential biases interact without directly contradicting each other.
Still, there appears to be a contradiction between the PMI-related bias and sexism in at least one instance: the perception of a female PMI’s dangerousness. Both features, which were mentioned (the idea of the weakness of women and the violence of PMI), can be regarded as typical bias, as was demonstrated in the literature review (Lila et al., 2013). As a result, it can be suggested that, when discussing female PMI, Mike and John prioritize the PM-related dangerousness bias over that concerning the relative harmlessness of women. In the end, the misconception about PMI contradicts the common sexist belief and becomes a dominant view in the officers’ opinion.
Thus, the third hypothesis can be regarded as confirmed: some interaction between the types of bias is found, but its dynamics and outcomes may vary. In particular, the dynamics can include the presence or the lack of conflict between the developed perceptions due to the two types of bias, and a form of hierarchy between these perceptions can be developed where one misconception is viewed as more relevant than the other. However, the female PMI outcomes are not obvious since the findings do not characterize the effects of the perception of PMI as violent on the officer’s behavior.
Additional information refers to the findings that do not contribute sufficient evidence to either of the hypotheses but are relevant to the topic. In particular, the findings support the idea that PMI encounters are frequent and pervasive (Morabito & Socia, 2015). David reports that PMI encounters happened quite often during his career, and Mike also states that it is a rather frequent occurrence. On the other hand, John reports having few encounters with PMI, “maybe 3 to 4 a year.” In other words, two of the officers report that PMI encounters are rather frequent, and all of them admit that there are unique complexities to dealing with PMI, which is why the discussion of the topic becomes particularly important.
Key issues in working with PMI and solutions
The topic of the issues in working with PMI and their solutions is shown to be particularly important by the literature review, which is why it is discussed specifically in this paper. The officers reported certain issues in working with PMI, including building rapport, deescalating the situation or avoiding its escalation, and ensuring that nobody gets injured. John and Mike discussed the need for special caution when working with PMI, and John specifically points out that PMI encounters are especially stressful and difficult, in his opinion. These factors, including communication issues and PMI encounter management’s general difficulty, correspond to the literature review findings (Ogloff et al., 2012).
Apart from that, at least two officers seem to report the issue of determining the presence of mental issues. Only David report using his experience, education, and intuition to assess the connection of PMI to reality. On the other hand, John reports that it is most convenient when someone can inform the officer about the person’s mental state and regards the personal assessment of the PMI’s behavior and speech and officer’s intuition as a last resort. Mike also affirms that he and most other officers lack psychological education, which is why they cannot diagnose mental disorders. Still, he mentions that in some cases, PMI or their relatives provide the information. In other words, there is some evidence of the lack of psychology-related training causing difficulties for officers working with PMI Morabito & Socia, 2015).
The respondents also dwelled on the aspects that can help to deal with the challenging issues. David mentions his clinical psychotherapist education and practices, and his “psychological insight” helped him manage the issues with PMIs involved and seek out help through referrals to psychologists and social workers. Similarly, Mike believes that his experience of working with children with special needs helps him now to deal with youngsters and adults who exhibit any kind of emotional disturbance. Also, David mentions that the willingness to understand PMI’s issues and willingness to spend time on the process of listening and talking to them helps to deal with PMI’s (and some other) cases. Finally, Mike focuses on guidelines and policies that protect people from unjust treatment (particularly women from sexism). This finding suggests that the law’s presence in the lives of women and female PMI improves the quality of policing services provided to them, improving their safety.
The officers were also asked to provide information about education, which could prepare them to deal with different people. David reports taking a course related to dealing with people with emotional issues offered by the military police school at the beginning of the 1960s. Apart from that, at the beginning of his police service career, he took a course, “How to Deal with Abnormal People.” He states that “to this day I still laugh about the name,” but he reports that it was just another course on people with emotional issues. Similarly, John reports taking relevant courses, which prepared him for dealing with diverse populations, including PMI. Mike remembers attending courses in dealing with emotionally disturbed people provided by the academy and during service training. He believes that they should help resolve PMI-related situations. In general, the officers seem to regard education as an important tool in informing PMI management, which corresponds to the literature review findings (Hansson & Markström, 2014; Melnikov et al., 2016), but at least one of them (David) also reports some issues in their design, which also was predicted by the literature review (Schulenberg, 2016, p. 19).
The present report discusses the outcomes of a study devoted to investigating bias against PMI and sexism in the police and the outcomes of their interrelations. The study involved carrying out three interviews and analyzing two sexism inventory questionnaires; the participants included a retired and experienced officer and two young officers with less experience. The study’s findings support the first and third hypotheses, but the second one is loosely supported.
The three officers exhibit rather low or nonexistent sexism levels and bias, but both were spotted, which confirms the first hypothesis. Very few effects on the behavior of the officers were tied to bias and sexism. Still, the examples of the two interrelating were found, which supports the second and third hypotheses. In particular, it was established that, when dealing with female PMI, the officers prioritize the misconception about PMI’s increased dangerousness over the sexist idea that females are non-violent and not dangerous. As a result, female PMI are perceived by the officers as dangerous, even though the respondents also report the idea that male PMI are still more dangerous than female ones. The latter findings demonstrate a form of consistency in the sexist views. They show that the interactions between the two forms of bias (those related to PMI and sexism) are not one-dimensional.
In general, the study’s findings suggest that female PMI encounters are an important aspect of police service that occurs in a wide variety of settings and requires the use of specific techniques. The study also shows that these techniques can be promoted with the help of education. Moreover, it is worth noting that apart from the potentially biased attitudes, the officers demonstrated sexism and bias awareness as well as an understanding of the specific needs of female PMI and compassion towards them. In the end, this evidence can be used to conclude that the presence of the law in the lives of female PMI increases the changes of the just treatment of female PMI and helps officers to find the solutions to the situations that they regard as difficult.
Bearing in mind the significant limitations of the present study, additional research should be promoted. Indeed, as demonstrated in the literature review, the issues of sexism and bias towards PMI are acknowledged as significant. Still, there is little consensus on the impact that it can have on the everyday encounters of the police with female PMI. The situation is viewed as a problem, and educational interventions are offered to resolve it. Still, recent literature views the currently-existing interventions as either insufficiently effective or insufficiently studied to determine their effectiveness. On the other hand, understanding the phenomenon appears to be important for the development of interventions aimed at resolving the issue. As a result, the investigation of the specifics of police officers’ everyday encounters with female PMIs can help improve the interventions.
The specific areas of the improvement of the current research should include the involvement of a greater and, possibly, a sample of officers with characteristics. Also, a reliable, valid inventory on PMI-related bias could be very helpful for future research. Finally, the areas that are mentioned in the additional information sections can be later explored in studies devoted specifically to them. In other words, future research can eliminate the limitations of the current one or make them less prominent and cover additional areas of the topic, which are not considered in this study in detail.
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