Police officers’ perceptions and experiences with mentally disordered suspects

Laura Oxburgh, Fiona Gabbert, Becky Milne, Julie Cherryman

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Despite mentally disordered suspects being over-represented within the criminal justice system, there is a dearth of published literature that examines police officers’perceptions when interviewing this vulnerable group. This is concerning given that police officers are increasingly the first point of contact with these individuals. Using a Grounded Theory approach, this study examined 35 police officers’ perceptions and experiences when interviewing mentally disordered suspects. Current safeguards, such as Appropriate Adults, and their experiences of any training they received were also explored. A specially designed questionnaire was developed and distributed across six police forces in England and Wales. Nine conceptual categories emerged from the data that highlighted how police officers’ level of experience impacted upon their perceptions when dealing with this cohort. As a consequence, a new model grounded within Schema Theory has emerged termed Police Experience Transitional Model. Implications include the treatment and outcome of mentally disordered suspects being heavily dependent on whom they encounter within the criminal justice system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages52
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Issue numberA
Early online date20 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • mental disorder
  • suspects
  • police interview
  • experience
  • perceptions


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