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A focus for mental health training for police

Stuart Thomas (School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Amy Watson (Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to propose a focus for mental health training efforts to better equip officers to provide interventions and supports to help facilitate improved outcomes for people experiencing mental health crises.


A reflection on key evidence relating to mental health training programmes delivered to police, focussing on Australia, the USA and Canada.


While there are a number of similarities in the core content of mental health training programmes offered internationally, the availability and uptake of training across jurisdictions remains piecemeal and idiosyncratic. Police officers report a strong preference for hands-on experiential learning; this has immediate and direct relevance to their operational duties, and is consistent with core principles of andragogy. While all police employees require mental health training, specialised mental health training programmes should clearly be reserved for a select group of officers who volunteer after acquiring sufficient operational experience.

Research limitations/implications

Priorities should centre on measuring the effectiveness of mental health training packages and discerning the active elements associated with changes in police skills and confidence, as well as identifying elements that support improved outcomes for people who experience mental illness and who have contact with the police.

Practical implications

Police need to continue to need to seek legitimacy with respect to their guardianship role as mental health interventionists. Training should tap into practice-based wisdom. Training should be practical, applied and reinforced through wider knowledge-based learning and workplace reinforcement. Training is needed for everyone, but specialised training is not for all. Police need to focus on the partnerships and expend time, energy and resources to maintain and grow them. Specialist (and other forms of) training needs to be evaluated so we understand what works?


There may be opportunities to streamline the delivery of knowledge-based aspects of mental health training and focus much more on experiential learning, both in specialised training courses as well as shorter mental health awareness sessions.



Thomas, S. and Watson, A. (2017), "A focus for mental health training for police", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 93-104.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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