Police Attitudes Toward Mental Illness and Psychiatric Patients in Israel

R. Kimhi, Y. Barak, J. Gutman, Y. Melamed, M. Zohar and I. Barak,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 26(4): 625-630, 1998.
The attitude of the public toward mental illness and toward psychiatric patients raises a serious and sensitive issue that indirectly affects the development of community mental health services. Most citizens feel that there is an association between mental illness and dangerous or violent behavior. Studies undertaken among police personnel in the 1970s demonstrated that their attitudes were similar to those of the general public in Israel. The objective of the present study was to assess the attitudes of police officers toward mental illness and psychiatric patients by means of a self-report questionnaire. Ninety-three policemen from five police stations within the Y. Abarbanel Mental Health Center catchment area participated in the study. All were young males (average age 32.1 years) and 75 percent had a high school education or higher. More than half (54.5%) had personally known a psychiatric patient in the past, and 20.4 percent of the police personnel graded mental illness as the severest form of disease in medicine. A minority (14.3%) of policemen agreed with the statement: "A psychiatric hospital should be fenced and manned by guards." One-third did not know whether psychiatric patients are dangerous. We conclude that training of police officers is called for to effect changes in their misconceptions about psychiatric patients. Psychoeducation may lead to improved handling by the police of incidents involving the mentally ill.