Understanding the Spatial Patterns of Police Activity and Mental Health in a Canadian City

Date01 May 2019
Published date01 May 2019
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17P16iOb3ZIi7t/input 842014CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219842014Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeHodgkinson and Andresen
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(2) 221 –240
Understanding the Spatial
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Patterns of Police Activity
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219842014
and Mental Health in a
Canadian City
Tarah Hodgkinson1 and Martin A. Andresen2
Mental health–related calls for service are increasing across Canadian communities.
However, the spatial dynamics of these calls for service and their potential relationship
with concentrations of crime has not been fully investigated in the Canadian context.
The current study examines mental health and other calls for service in a medium-
sized (approximate population of 250,000), midwestern Canadian city in the year
2014. Using kernel density analysis and a spatial point pattern test, the study explores
the concentration and spatial patterns of mental health calls for service across the city.
Findings indicate that mental health calls for service differ from other crime-related
calls for service, except for violent crime. Possible explanations for this pattern and
considerations for policy and policing are discussed.
mental health, hot spots, point pattern, crime and place, micro-place
Deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities and the lack of other social supports
for mental health–related (MHR) issues in Canada have dramatically increased the
response of Canadian police to MHR calls for service (Coleman & Cotton, 2010).
Police are now considered the frontline mental health workers (Green, 1997). However,
many police services in Canada are not trained, nor do they have the personnel to pro-
vide the time or services necessary to respond to MHR calls (Durbin, Lin, & Zaslavska,
1Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
2Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
Corresponding Author:
Tarah Hodgkinson, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Mt. Gravatt Campus,
Rm. 3.35, M10, 176 Messines Ridge Road, Mt. Gravatt, Brisbane, Queensland 4122, Australia.
Email: t.hodgkinson@griffith.edu.au

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(2)
2010). Most of the current police response to MHR calls for service is reactive and
does not address potential correlates of these calls (Wilson-Bates, 2008; Wood &
Watson, 2017). Canadian police services and public health policy would benefit from
a better understanding of when and where MHR calls for service emerge. While calls
for service are only a proxy measure of MHR incidents in communities in Canada,
they do offer an understanding of the MHR workload for police. This kind of research
could potentially illuminate physical or social correlates of MHR calls and provide
guidance for targeted policing and social services. The current study examines the
geographical component of MHR calls and other calls for service to the police to
determine both the spatial configuration of MHR calls in the Canadian context and
how they may or may not relate to other police call activity in these places.
Related Literature
As a result of deinstitutionalization, many Canadians with MHR issues needed com-
munity-based care (Vazquez-Bourgon, Salvador-Carulla, & Vazquez-Barquero, 2012).
However, few social supports were actually put in place, leaving many with little to no
support at all (Sealy, 2012). As such, some have argued that deinstitutionalization has
contributed to increases in homelessness and victimization for individuals with mental
illness (Frankish, Hwang, & Quantz, 2005). Others have identified how, despite the
lack of evidence for a causal link between mental health and offending, deinstitution-
alization has shifted individuals with MHR issues to other institutions—including
police custody and prisons (Hiday, 2006; Prins, 2011; Testa, 2015).
Much research has also demonstrated a link between mental health and victimiza-
tion, indicating that individuals living with MHR illnesses are more likely to be vio-
lently victimized (Canadian Mental Health Association 2005; Hiday, 2006). In
addition, other forms of marginalization, such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, can
compound stigmatization and criminalization of individuals with MHR issues
(Livingston, 2016). Moreover, individuals living with MHR issues often suffer other
co-occurring issues such as homelessness (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2005;
Jencks, 1994). All of these factors can place individuals living with mental illness in
the public purview and readily identifiable by police and, thus, it should not be surpris-
ing that police in Canada are responding to increasing workloads regarding mental
Individuals with mental health illnesses are more likely to have contact with the
police than the general public (Watson, Angell, Vidalon, & Davis, 2010). For example,
Brink et al. (2011) found that approximately 5% of police calls involve individuals
with MHR issues in Canada, in British Columbia, while some police services report as
high as 15% to 20% of calls (Vaughan & Andresen, 2018). Furthermore, indigenous
people are at an even higher risk of MHR contact with the police in Canada (Boyce,
Rotenberg, & Karam, 2015). Almost 20% of people who engage with Canadian police
are also dealing with a substance abuse or mental health disorder,1 with substance
abuse being more common for men and mental health being more common for women
(Boyce et al., 2015). In addition, 14 % of referrals to emergency psychiatric services

Hodgkinson and Andresen
involve the police and almost one third of individuals with MHR issues have accessed
care through the police in some way (Brink et al. 2011).
Higher rates of police interaction do not necessarily indicate higher levels of offend-
ing activity. Individuals living with MHR disorders are often more easily detectable by
the police because they are living with other issues such as substance abuse, not using
medications properly, a lack of proper social and medical services, homelessness, and
local factors including social disorganization and social stigma (Desmarais et al.,
2014). While Brink et al. (2011) found that individuals living with MHR issues are
more likely to have negative contacts with the police; this does not mean these con-
tacts are offending related. In a study of 60 individuals living with mental illness in
Canada, Livingston et al. (2014) found that police contact is often initiated by indi-
viduals living with MHR illnesses. They found that these contacts involve requesting
assistance or reporting victimization and are often resolved using non–criminal jus-
tice-related methods (Livingston et al. 2014). This not only identifies the higher risk of
victimization for individuals living with MHR issues (Teplin, McClelland, Abram, &
Weiner, 2005), but also that MHR contacts with the police are often not criminal jus-
tice–related. Because individuals dealing with MHR disorders are more likely to have
contact with the police, it is important to understand if and where MHR issues are
concentrated within other Canadian cities and why in those places.
Crime and Place Research
Criminologists have long recognized the role of place in explaining crime (Bursik &
Grasmick, 1993; Shaw & McKay, 1942). Crime and place research continues to dem-
onstrate the consistency of spatial concentration of crime in relatively few hot spots in
a city and the stability of this concentration over time (Weisburd, Bushway, Lum, &
Yang, 2004). Recent improvements in crime mapping and analysis technology, com-
bined with increased public access to police data, have contributed to the proliferation
of place-based criminological research (Sherman & Weisburd, 1995; Weisburd & Eck,
2004). This expansion has led to numerous studies also finding crime concentrations
and stability, indicating the possibility of what Weisburd (2015) referred to as the “law
of crime concentration.”
In the Canadian context, crime and place research is relatively sparse, generally
confirming previous research (Andresen & Malleson, 2011; Hodgkinson, Andresen, &
Farrell, 2016). These consistent findings have been useful for better understanding of
which kinds of places create opportunities for crime concentration and for developing
targeted and place-based responses to hot spots areas that have led to significant reduc-
tions in criminal activity, contributing to overall community safety and security (Braga
& Weisburd, 2010).
The research on the spatial concentration of mental health and crime hot spots is
still in its infancy. While public health literature has examined the role between geog-
raphy and mental health (Leslie & Cerin, 2008; Mair, Diez-Roux, & Morenoff, 2010),
few criminological studies have emerged attempting to examine how mental health
concentrates spatially. These studies are finding connections between public health

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 35(2)
indicators and crime issues at the micro-place level (Weisburd et al., 2018; White &
Goldberg, 2018). This research is important for identifying potential compounding
correlates of crime and safety issues in these locations.
In a longitudinal study of crime and public and mental health at the micro-place
level in the United States, White and...

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