Individuals with behavioral health disorder are overrepresented in the criminal-legal justice system. However, law enforcement officers (LEOs) are their initial point of engagement with the justice system, suggesting training on how to effectively and safely interact with this population are vital for LEOs. Despite the growing literature on the behavioral health-related trainings for LEOs, little is known about the factors associated with officers’ preference for behavioral health training. Also, many studies focus on officers working in urban areas, while less is known about those working in rural settings. This study aims to (1) understand preferences for behavioral health training among LEOs working in rural areas and (2) examine associations between preference for behavioral health trainings and demographic factors, experience with and views about behavioral health, professional experience with individuals with behavioral health issues, level of agreement regarding training on behavioral health, and frequency of taking training courses.
As a part of an online behavioral health training implemented for LEOs, a convenience sample of 116 LEOs aged from 21 to 60 practicing in the Southern region of the US were recruited via community advisory board members who are current or were former LEOs. Online surveys via Qualtrics were distributed from November 2020 to December 2020. All analyses were conducted using SPSS. The dependent variable was preference for behavioral health training, a total score on a six-item assessment (level of agreement on importance of training, relationship with mental health providers, delivery of behavioral health training, mandatory requirement of the training.) A higher score represented a higher preference for behavioral health training. Univariate analyses described demographics, preference for behavioral health training, experience and views about behavioral health, professional experience with individuals with behavioral health, and frequency of taking training courses among all participants. Bivariate analyses examined the unadjusted relationship via independent sample t-test for categorical variables with dichotomous values and Pearson correlation for continuous variables. Ordered logistic regression was used to examine the preference for behavioral health training. Listwise deletion was applied for missing data.
Majority of the participants were male, non-Hispanic whites, and graduated with a high school diploma. Female participants were more likely to prefer receiving behavioral health training. Participants with a higher level of agreement on professional experience with individuals with behavioral health were more likely to receive behavioral health training. Participants with a higher level of agreement regarding training on behavioral health were significantly more likely to receive behavioral health training.
The findings suggest generating awareness among those who are male or have negative regards or stigma toward those who have behavioral health disorder is needed. Also, it may be that officers have a diminished desire for additional trainings due to dearth of behavioral healthcare entities in the rural area. Future studies should incorporate organizational behavior and human resource theories, centering officers’ motivation and receptivity to better understand officers’ preferences for behavioral health trainings. Moreover, other demographic factors, such as tenure (senior vs junior) and regionality (urban vs rural), should be considered for future analysis.