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Disentangling the influence of suspects' demeanor and mental disorder on arrest

Kenneth J. Novak (Department of Sociology/Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of Missouri‐Kansas City, Kansas, Missouri, USA)
Robin S. Engel (Division of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 September 2005




The purpose of this paper is to understand the factors that influence officer behavior when encountering suspects of crime who are perceived to have a mental disorder.


This paper utilizes data collected from systematic social observations of street officers during 617 encounters with suspects, including 49 that were perceived to have a mental disorder. Multivariate models are estimated to determine the relative influence mental disorder has on officer decision making.


The paper finds mentally disordered suspects are more likely to demonstrate disrespectful or hostile behavior. The paper also finds that disrespect and hostility increases the likelihood of arrests. However, results also demonstrate that despite behavioral differences, persons with mental disorders are significantly less likely to be arrested by officers. Results support the contention that officers view mental status as a mitigating factor during encounters, and further calls in to question the criminalization hypothesis.

Research limitations/implications

It is not clear what extent informal actions were taken by officers during encounters with mentally disordered suspects. Future research can also examine the interaction process that occurs between police and citizens who are mentally disordered, and consider evaluating the effectiveness of various responses to mentally disordered suspects.


This paper has value for both practitioners interested in understanding the dynamics of the police‐citizen encounter, as well as academics who are involved with theorizing the nature of social control by police officers.



Novak, K.J. and Engel, R.S. (2005), "Disentangling the influence of suspects' demeanor and mental disorder on arrest", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 493-512.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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