By Beth Broussard, Shaily Krishan, Dana Hankerson-Dyson, Letheshia Husbands, Barbara D'Orio, Nancy J. Thompson, Amy C. Watson, and Michael T. Compton
Stigma, perceptions of dangerousness, and social distance toward individuals with mental illnesses may influence police officers' behaviors and dispositional decisions during routine patrol duties that involve interactions with subjects experiencing a psychiatric crisis. The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program seeks to decrease stigma in officers, while increasing knowledge and improving de-escalation skills and related behaviors. This study examined stigma using two measures-a semantic differential measure comprised of 12 scales and a social distance measure-in a sample of 250 CIT-trained and 332 non-CIT-trained officers who viewed or read vignettes of an individual with psychosis and another with suicidality. The two stigma measures were thus completed twice, each time linked to a vignette. Regarding the semantic differential measure, stigmatizing attitudes were apparent in both groups of officers especially when "yourself" was used as the comparator as opposed to "an average police officer" or "an average person." Such attitudes were particularly apparent in terms of perceived dangerousness pertaining to psychosis. Among the 12 assessed attitudes, perceptions of dangerousness were most strongly correlated with social distance toward the individual with psychosis. CIT-trained officers had lower levels of stigma toward the man in the psychosis vignette (but not the woman in the suicidality vignette) compared to non-CIT-trained officers. Explorations of the rich data suggest that in measuring stigma, using "yourself" rather than "an average person" as the comparator may make stigma more detectable. Furthermore, findings suggest that it may be as useful, and more efficient, to simply measure attitudes toward the person with a mental illness without reference to a comparator. Implications pertaining to stigma-reduction interventions, both among police officers and in a wider societal audience, are discussed.
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