Therapeutic Policing: Police as Therapeutic Agents

Miss Helen Punter1

1University Of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Australia

Police officers are spending larger portions of their daily duties interacting and caring for individuals who are experiencing actual (or perceived) mental health crises. This role has become widely recognised as ‘core business’ for police. Meaning that the police, not mental health professionals, are usually the first point of contact. This point of contact can influence outcomes for persons with mental illness (PMI) in both positive and/or negative ways. Therapeutic Policing, a new framework, sought to reframe the Therapeutic Jurisprudence framework to examine the laws that police officers administer and the policies and procedures that regulate officers’ actions to consider whether these elements are affecting an individuals’ emotional and psychological well-being in a positive (therapeutic) or negative (anti-therapeutic) manner. Ensuring that these legal rules, policies, and procedures are therapeutic in nature would allow police officers to act as agents in providing therapeutic outcomes at the entry to the criminal justice system. Therapeutic Jurisprudence does not provide a definition of what is therapeutic (or anti-therapeutic) within the context of PMI-police interactions. To develop a definition specific to PMI during interactions with police, the current research utilised interviews with frontline mental health service workers, as proxies for PMI, in order to explore their perception of PMI experiences during their interactions with police during mental health crises. Results indicated that instead of two distinct categories, therapeutic and anti-therapeutic, any definitional framework, may be better defined in terms of a spectrum of factors, ranging from least restrictive (therapeutic) to most coercive (anti-therapeutic). The spectrum of factors identified will be discussed in terms of providing police a fuller opportunity to better meet the therapeutic needs of PMI during their interactions, therefore providing the potential for police officers to act more fully as therapeutic agents.


Helen Punter is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia. She completed her undergraduate studies and honours, in Criminology and Criminal Justice, at Griffith University, Queensland. Helen’s most recent contribution to the policing literature is a book chapter on policing mental illness titled: ‘New paradigms of policing mental illness in Australia: The future of ‘mental health street-sweeping’. Previous publications include a book chapter on preventive justice titled: Policing persons with mental illness: Preventive justice or preventing injustice? and an article on Police move-on powers in Queensland titled: Move-on powers: New paradigms of public order policing in Queensland.


Dec 10 2021