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Survey: Police Want More Training, Mental Health Support

The need for more training and more mental health assistance go hand in hand, as officers who don’t feel they have had enough or adequate training are more likely to be stressed about the job.

Three police officers standing in a circle on a sidewalk speaking to a fourth person who has their back to the camera.
Garden Grove Cpl. Luis Ramirez responds to a call along with the Be Well team on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. Crisis Intervention Specialists Victor Reyes and Victoria Tran offer mental-health support, services and follow up. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mindy Schauer/TNS
A report by Vector Solutions found that law enforcement officers surveyed report that they would like more scenario-based training and more mental health support.

The two go hand-in-hand, as officers who don’t feel they have had enough or adequate training are more likely to be stressed about the job.

The officers were part of a survey of 600 first responders — law enforcement, fire, EMS and 911 dispatchers — in which a quarter of the law enforcement respondents said they needed more mental health support, and more than half said they needed more scenario-based training to supplement classroom training. Officers also spend an average of 20 hours per week on administrative work, and 49 percent of those surveyed said their agency doesn’t have the right technology for them to do the job properly, which can cause further stress.

Scenario-based training differs from the classroom training, as well as firearms training, handcuff training and the like, in that it requires the officer to make a decision as to the outcome of a predetermined situation. This gives an officer something to fall back on when confronted with a similar situation in the field.

“The idea is preloading your brain so that when it actually happens on the street your brain recognizes, ‘Hey, I’ve already been here and done this’ to help speed the decision-making process,” said Doug Kazensky, a former police training sergeant and currently a solutions engineer at Vector Solutions.

The training is labor-intensive and requires a police agency to find a location, and thus some agencies find that these scenario-based trainings are difficult to deliver.

This can contribute to an officer’s mental health; 25 percent of law enforcement respondents in the survey reported receiving no mental health support at all. And we are in a day and age when police are looking for that support.

For so long, law enforcement required officers to be physically fit but the mental side wasn’t discussed. That has changed with the recognition that what law enforcement officers see and go through sticks with them and can create mental health problems.

“There was often a stigma attached to seeking help, and agencies haven’t been able to move past that. But you can see in the results of the survey that officers are looking for that support and ways that agencies can support them,” Kazensky said.

“Over time we’ve realized that [law enforcement] takes in so much and sees and absorbs so much that it affects not only your physical health but your mental health,” he continued. “The two are linked, and over the last eight to 10 years, we’ve started to see a real push to bring that out into the open.”

The report said that 72 percent of respondents worry about their occupation’s effects on their mental health and that more than half of law enforcement officers have considered leaving the job because of these concerns.