Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Keywords

Disability, Law enforcement, Intellectual disability, Attitude, Social distance

Abstract

This study examined the attitudes held by police officers towards persons with mental retardation with regard to the domains of knowledge, social willingness, affect and contact. It also investigated relationships among group membership and perspectives towards mental retardation. An analysis of relationships between the four domains was also completed. A descriptive correlational design was employed to survey police officers, pairing the Social Distance Questionnaire with a researcher-designed instrument consisting of open-ended questions aligned with each domain. The sample included one hundred and eighty police officers from five different bureaus in one county in Central Florida. Results of the study indicate that police officers hold generally positive attitudes towards persons with mental retardation, are knowledgeable about persons with mental retardation, and are socially willing to interact with such persons.

In the domains of contact and affect, a discrepancy was found between the open-ended responses and the questionnaire data. The latter showed scores were skewed slightly higher than the neutral point of the scale, but the open-ended responses reflected lower contact and less positive affect. This inconsistency was attributed to instrumentation as the level of contact and affect were measured differently between the two surveys. This study found that group membership by gender and race does in fact play a role in the shaping of police officer perceptions towards mental retardation, with females having more positive affect and Hispanic officers scoring lower in social willingness. Significance was not found for either chronological age or years of experience. The analysis of relationships among the domains showed that each domain has a significant relationship with the other, with the strongest relationship between affect and social willingness.

According to the study results, the most significant influence on a police officer's attitudinal score is the officer's social willingness to interact with persons who have that disability. The level of knowledge between the study participants was variable, but the responses and level of social willingness demonstrated more consistency when compared with the overall score. Information gained from this study is useful for developing disability awareness curriculum for public service providers and higher education.

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