How A Police Officer Can Improve The Perception That People With Mental Illness Have Of The Police
After reading the research of Brink et al. (2011), there are several ways as a future police officer that I can improve the perception of people with mental illness have of the police.
Firstly and foremost, I believe compassion and a willing to listen are key. Looking for a confrontation before you even arrive at a call will cause a person to become very defensive and unwilling to communicate or open up. It is important to actively listen to what a person is saying by maintaining eye contact and repeating back to them what they said in a way that indicates you were respectful and interested in what they had to say. Using a calm voice without yelling or speaking in a condescending manner will help put a person at ease. The conversation should be focussed and deal with the reason you were called to the scene in the first place. Perhaps have the person relay what they think should occur from this point on to help them. It would not be wise to blame the person or accuse the person of something as they would most likely cut you off and end the conversation there.
Treating an adult like a child would not accomplish anything. It would also be important to avoid getting into someone’s personal space. You don’t want the person to feel they need to constantly back away from you because you are too “in their face.” It would also be crucial for the officer to never take anything said personally. You are there to help this person who is in crisis while remaining objective and trustworthy. You don’t want to show up on scene and feel disrespected by something they said and apprehend them immediately just because your feelings were hurt. It is important to not feel discouraged because the person isn’t agreeing with everything that is said to them. Stay focused and respectful. It is crucial to be human in these situations as opposed to being a robotic officer without empathy or understanding. Whatever the outcome of the encounter will be, at least the public or carers perception will be one of an officer that actually showed he or she cared and took the time to be understanding and genuinely tried to help the person with the mental health issues.
Now it is also important that even though the main goal of the police officer is to be respectful, compassionate and understanding when dealing with persons with mental health issues, an officer’s safety along with the public’s safety is always of paramount importance and supersedes the focus of trying to appease the person in crisis just so the perception of police by people with mental illness is a positive one. If a person in crisis has already made up their mind to completely wreak havoc on the situation by attempting to harm the officer or a member of the public, the negotiation process is thrown out the window. If the time comes where an officer has to make a life-saving split decision in these types of situations but is suddenly concerned about the perception of the police by people with mental illness, we have a far greater issue at hand than the subject of public perception.
In conclusion, it is simple common sense that if a police offer treats each and every person that has mental health issues, or any member of the public for that matter with dignity, respect, understanding, compassion and patience, the payoffs in terms of public acceptance and kind words for police in general would be astronomical. In my mind, following The Golden Rule would do wonders for any police service in the court of public opinion. But the public must also understand that safety always trumps perception concerns. It has to be give and take between police and people with mental illness to ensure a collective balance in society.