IACP Police Psychological Services Section
"This Section offers psychological solutions to the problems faced by police agencies in the areas of personnel assessment, individual as well as organizational intervention, consultation and operational assistance. The Section acts as a resource to the Association on psychological and behavioral issues. It promotes ethical and empirically based practices through education, training, consultation, research, and the publication of guidelines covering a variety of psychologically related topics."
The Police Psychological Services Section of the IACP acts as a resource to the Association on psychologically-related issues in assessment, counseling, consultation and operational assistance. The Section provides continuing education and training to the Association and its members to further ethical and empirically-based practices, and develops and maintains a set of current guidelines for the Association's members as a resource for commonly encountered police psychological activities.
To be considered for membership, applicants must be psychologists with an unrestricted license as defined by licensing requirements in the applicant's state or country, or persons with the highest terminal degree in psychology required in the applicant’s country and who conduct police psychological services in a setting, or of a type, exempt from licensing requirements in the applicant’s state or country. To be considered for membership, the applicant must submit an application, curriculum vitae, copy of current license (if applicable), and three letters of recommendation from police chiefs, sheriffs, or top-level police administrators who have current knowledge of the applicant’s professional skills. References must be from separate departments (multiple letters from large agencies may qualify - contact the Section Membership Chair). At least one reference must be a current active member of IACP.
Online Member Directory
Psychological Services Section Membership Application
Section Governing Document
Application for Student Membership
Student Membership FAQ
To explore our website, click on any of the tabs above. The contents of the tabs are briefly described below.
What do police psychologists do? Police psychologists provide a variety of professional services which are grouped under 4 domains (assessment, operations, interventions, and consultation). Under each domain we have described each service in detail.
This tab contains a listing of published articles and professional research as well as links to practice guidelines developed and published by our section. The articles and references are also indexed to the 4 domains.
Our section holds a meeting each year at the IACP convention. This tab contains links to session agendas and other program information for both upcoming and past meetings.
This tab contains a search engine that will allow you to locate a police psychologist/section member in your area. Search on Name, State, City, or Zip Code.
POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES SECTION
International Association of Chiefs of Police
The history of the IACP Police Psychology Section mirrors the growth of the subspecialty of Police Psychology. Although law enforcement agencies utilized psychological services as early as 1917, it was in the midst of rapid growth of the field during the 1980’s that the IACP Police Psychology Section was born. A group of police psychologists attending a Police Psychology training conference at the FBI Academy in Quantico began discussing the need for an organization of police psychologists to serve the IACP membership. By the end of the conference, it was decided to probe the possibility of forming an IACP police psychological services committee. This group met again at the October 1984 IACP Annual Conference in Salt Lake City as an ad hoc committee. The ad hoc committee developed an outline of interests and responsibilities and made a formal presentation to IACP Executive Board members, who voted to establish the Police Psychological Services Committee on October 25, 1984 with several key objectives:
- To serve as a central source information source relating to police psychology for the IACP membership and law enforcement generally;
- To promote the use of psychology within law enforcement.
- To promote the field of Police Psychology within the broad field of Psychology and related disciplines.
- To provide training to the IACP membership in the many areas where psychological services and methods can enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement services.
- To develop and train Police Psychologists through educational offerings and opportunities for networking.
The first meeting of the Police Psychological Services Committee took place at the 1985 IACP Annual Conference in Houston, Texas. There the Committee further refined its objectives and re-asserted that its primary role was to serve IACP member needs. In addition, at the conference the Committee began developing strategies to implement these through presentations at IACP annual conferences and publications in Police Chief magazine. Several months later in December 17, 1985 at another conference at the FBI Academy members of the committee and other attendees made final determinations regarding a series of workshops to be offered at the 1986 IACP Conference in Nashville. It was at this conference that the committee was elevated to full section status.
Since that time, the membership of the IACP Psychological Services Section has grown to more than 160 police psychologists. The Section continues to adhere to the original objectives of the Psychological Services Committee by contributing to Police Chief Magazine, presenting training programs for IACP members at the annual IACP conferences as well as providing in-service training for police psychologists.
One of the most important contributions of the section is in providing some standardization for the field of Police Psychology through publication of articles and books by Section members and through the development and publication of guidelines. These guidelines, the first to be disseminated in the field of Police Psychology, filled a conspicuous void, as prior to their implementation there had been no formalization of procedures in the field. While the primary intent of the guidelines was to help IACP members better decisions regarding utilization of psychological services, a second objective was to help those practicing in the field by establishing written procedural protocols for important areas of Police Psychological practice, namely pre-employment evaluation, duty-related shootings, fitness for duty, and use of peer support. As one example of the impact of these guidelines, agencies are beginning to refer to them when soliciting psychological services, requiring that practitioners desiring to provide services for the agency describe how their procedures adhere to the IACP Police Psychology guidelines.
Today the Psychological Services section remains a dynamic force shaping the field of Police Psychology and, it is hoped, an important contributor to the IACP and the entire Law Enforcement community by promoting professionalism among psychology practitioners and by educating law enforcement professionals in the appropriate use of services.
1986-1987 James H. Shaw, Ph.D.
1987-1988 Susan Saxe-Clifford, Ph.D.
1988-1990 Joseph D. Elam, Ph.D.
1990-1992 Roger M. Solomon, Ph.D.
1992-1994 James Janik, Psy.D.
1994-1996 Stephen F. Curran, Ph.D.
1996-1998 Nancy K. Bohl, Ph.D.
1998-2000 Gary M. Kaufmann, Psy.D.
2000-2002 Michael G. Gelles, Psy.D.
2002-2004 Andrew H. Ryan, Ph.D.
2004-2006 John Nicoletti, Ph.D.
2006-2008 Audrey Honig, Ph.D.
2008-2009 David Corey, Ph.D.
2009-2010 Philip S. Trompetter, Ph.D.
2010-2011 Daniel W. Clark, Ph.D.
2011- Elizabeth White, Ph.D.
Select the domain from the menu to the left to see the proficiencies in more detail.
The delivery of psychological services to and on behalf of law enforcement agencies and employees is commonly referred to as police psychology. The field of police psychology is extremely diverse and involves more than 50 distinct proficiencies. Few, if any, police psychologists can stake a claim to all of these proficiencies, and most restrict their practices to only a relatively small number of them. Indeed, a psychologist whose practice is devoted to a single proficiency (e.g., preemployment psychological screening) may quite properly regard herself or himself as having a practice limited exclusively to police psychology. Nevertheless, it would be erroneous to conclude, for example, that all police psychologists conduct psychological screening or that those who do also perform the full array, or even a broad range, of the proficiencies that make up the field.
The police psychology proficiencies can be clustered or organized into four distinct domains of practice: (1) assessment-related activities, (2) intervention services, (3) operational support, and (4) organizational/management consultation. An overview of each of the primary proficiencies of police psychology within each of the four domains is provided below.
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Job and task analysis methodology is the primary vehicle for identifying, describing, and quantifying the performance components of a position, including both essential and marginal functions. The results of job and task analysis form the empirical framework for design and validation of selection instruments and processes (preemployment and/or promotional) as well as training needs assessments, performance measurement instruments, career development plans, and other personnel related instruments. Job and task analysis methodology typically involves a survey of incumbents and superiors in order to identify tasks, responsibilities and other job requirements as well as the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) necessary to perform these job components. Once these components are identified, their relative contribution to performance is calculated; usually in terms of importance, frequency, and criticality.
Pre-employment, post-offer psychological evaluations of job candidates
Statutory requirements, regulations, and national accreditation have rendered preemployment, post-offer psychological evaluations of police officer candidates a nearly universal standard. These evaluations help to ensure that candidates are free of job-relevant mental impairments; possess adequate stress resilience and emotional hardiness; are able to meet the behavioral, social, and cognitive demands of modern policing; or satisfy other criteria determined by law or agency requirements. Post-offer psychological evaluations involve, at a minimum, the administration of one or more objective, standardized written measures of abnormal psychological functioning, and a clinical interview, both of which must be administered by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. The IACP Police Psychological Services Section publishes and maintains guidelines for this area of practice ("Preemployment Psychological Evaluation Guidelines").
Psychological fitness-for-duty evaluations of incumbents
This highly specialized area of practice involves the psychological evaluation of an incumbent police officer’s ability to safely and effectively carry out the essential functions of his or her position. Fitness-for-duty evaluations are indicated whenever there is objective evidence leading to a reasonable belief that the employee may be substantially psychologically impaired or pose a direct threat to him/herself. The IACP Police Psychological Services Section publishes and maintains guidelines for this area of practice ("Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation Guidelines").
Evaluations for FMLA eligibility
Under circumstances defined by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its state progeny, employers may require employees to submit to an independent medical evaluation when applying for FMLA benefits. Psychologists conducting these evaluations should be familiar with the eligibility requirements in the employer’s jurisdiction and be qualified to evaluate or diagnosis mental health functioning.
Evaluations for reasonable accommodation
Under circumstances defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its state progeny, employers may require qualified employees with a disability to submit to an independent medical evaluation when requesting reasonable accommodation. Psychologists conducting these evaluations should be familiar with the federal and state ADA requirements and case law and be qualified to evaluate or diagnose mental health functioning.
Some agencies require psychological evaluations for police special assignments (e.g., SWAT, hostage negotiator, canine officer, undercover officer, drug and vice officer, etc.) to ensure that they meet minimum requirements for emotional stability or other standards. When any of the inquiries or procedures used by the examining psychologist are “medical” in nature, as defined by state or federal law, psychologists conducting these evaluations should be familiar with federal and state ADA procedures, statutes and case law and be qualified to evaluate or diagnose mental health functioning. These evaluations are also referred to by the acronym PEPSA (psychological evaluations for police special assignments).
Direct threat assessments
This activity is a type of fitness-for-duty evaluation where the referral question centers on whether or not the employee poses a direct threat to himself or others, as opposed to general fitness to perform essential functions. The standards governing this inquiry are defined in statutory and case law related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, both federal and state. Therefore, psychologists conducting these evaluations should be familiar with federal and state ADA statutes and case law and be qualified to evaluate or diagnose mental health functioning. The IACP Police Psychological Services Section publishes and maintains guidelines for this area of practice ("Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation Guidelines").
Workplace violence assessments
Arguably a variation of direct threat assessments, the focus of workplace violence assessments generally goes beyond the question of whether or not the employee poses a direct threat, as defined by relevant statutes, and includes a focus on risk management strategies (e.g., how identified risk factors might be minimized, and protective factors might be optimized, in order to reduce the risk of violence). As with direct threat assessments, the standards governing this inquiry are defined in statutory and case law related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, both federal and state. Therefore, psychologists conducting these evaluations should be familiar with federal and state ADA statutes, pertinent case law and research, and be qualified to evaluate or diagnose mental health functioning. The IACP Police Psychological Services Section publishes and maintains guidelines for this area of practice ("Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation Guidelines").
Mental health hold evaluations & consultation
Police psychologists provide direct and indirect assessment of individuals identified by police officers as potentially suicidal, imminently dangerous to self or others, unable to provide for basic personal needs as a result of a mental disease or disorder, incapable of understanding risks to health and safety as the result of a mental disorder, using drugs or alcohol in a manner that might endanger the safety of the individual or others, or who are extremely combative in association with a mental disease or disorder. The police psychologist consults with police officers on de-escalation, crisis intervention, and referral to a medical treatment facility for voluntary or involuntary emergency psychiatric evaluation.
Supervision of psychological assistants, residents, interns or fellows
Police psychologists provide supervision of psychological assistants, residents, interns, and fellows in accordance with the “Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology” (American Psychological Association, 2005). These guidelines require that there be formally designated licensed psychologists (including at least one police psychologist) with exclusive responsibility for supervision who: (1) develop a police psychology training program including philosophy, objectives, and training plan; (2) secure program resources sufficient to accomplish the program’s service delivery, training, and supervision goals; (3) maintain program dynamics to promulgate eligibility for a training program in police psychology, which prepares supervisees for professional practice in police psychology; (4) create, accurately describe, disclose, and document relevant information relating to the training model, program goals and objectives, selection procedures, requirements for training completion, training facilities/settings, service recipient populations, administrative policies and procedures, and other resources; (5) participate in a program of self-assessment and quality enhancement; and (6) ensure positive supervisor-supervisee relations.
Pre-offer suitability screening of job applicants (normal traits & competencies)
Some agencies use a bifurcated procedure to evaluate the psychological suitability of job candidates, with a non-medical assessment of normal traits, behaviors, and competencies taking place prior to the conditional offer of employment, and the medical assessment (i.e., tests and inquiries capable of revealing an underlying mental disability) occurring after the conditional offer of employment. Pre-offer suitability screening involves the administration and scoring of tests, personal history questionnaires, and/or other instruments predicting suitability to complete training and perform the duties of a law enforcement officer. These predictions are usually validated against a combination of content, construct and criterion measures that are directly and demonstrably linked to the critical performance attributes of the target position. These measures are not designed to identify, describe, or diagnose mental disability or illness, as these can only be assessed after the conditional offer of employment.
Promotional evaluations (normal traits & competencies)
The focus of these evaluations is usually assessment of personal management style and general "fit" of the candidate with the job in question. They are administered to candidates for promotion to supervisory and/or executive ranks, and consist of tests of ability, personality, and interactive style combined with a structured comprehensive personal interview by a police psychologist. Since these assessments address general attributes (rather than specifically defined performance attributes such as job knowledge), they are usually conducted in conjunction with other agency promotional selection processes and serve as an adjunctive, rather than definitive, tool for making key personnel appointments. They also may serve to identify individual strengths, weaknesses, and/or areas for improvement. As such, results of this process may be incorporated into a career development program. These assessments often address performance attributes such as intellectual (problem solving) ability, emotional characteristics, skill in human relations, insight into human behavior, and ability to plan, organize and direct.
Assessment center development & administration
Assessment centers are standardized job simulation exercises designed to allow candidates to demonstrate skills and abilities identified by job analysis as essential for success in a given position. These exercises are scored by multiple trained observers whose ratings and judgments are pooled through consensus or by a statistical integration process. The term "assessment center" is a catch-all term that can consist of some or all of a variety of exercises. However, most assessment centers usually include some sort of in-basket exercise simulating disposition of items found in the in-basket for the job that is being tested. Other typical exercises include oral presentations, counseling simulations, problem analysis exercises, interview simulations, role play exercises, written report/analysis exercises, and leaderless group exercises.
PEPSA (normal traits & competencies)
Psychologists frequently contribute to the assessment and selection of officers assigned to high-risk, high-demand positions (e.g., SWAT, undercover, narcotics and vice, etc.). These evaluations usually include administration of psychological assessment instruments as well as an interview conducted by a police psychologist. However, psychologists may also design and/or participate in other selection processes and activities such as oral board interviews, and simulations. Although the traits, competencies and constructs assessed by these instruments are rationally linked to performance, the focus of these evaluations is usually to “screen out” individuals with a high probability of performance difficulties rather than to predict individual competency relative to other team members. They also are not designed to assess medical conditions and/or to comment on overall fitness for duty.
A psychological autopsy is a postmortem, postdictive psychological investigative procedure by which a person’s circumstances and psychological state of mind at the time leading up to his/her death is reconstructed, in order to help determine the manner of death, whether suicide, homicide, or accidental. Psychological autopsies are most useful when the evidence of the decedent’s intention is equivocal, and they entail reviewing medical and police reports, photos, drawings, and records, interviewing witnesses and people who knew the victim, visiting the scene, and using knowledge of personality theory, suicidology, and psychology in general, to form an integrated picture of the subject’s personality characteristics and state of mind, and the circumstances leading up to his/her death. Findings from psychological autopsies aid law enforcement agencies in designing programs to reduce the incidence of future suicides and to minimize liability by implementing behavioral or policy changes that mitigate factors that may have contributed to suicide.
Development of psychologically-based tests or assessment instruments involves the conceptualization, design, construction and validation of psychometric assessment instruments, which typically are used for selection and/or assessment of individual strengths and weaknesses. Examples include content validated tests of specific knowledge skills and abilities used to measure job knowledge, management decision-making, facility at written expression, construct validated measures of specific interactive traits related to special assignments, and/or criterion validated measures of performance such as work samples. The test development process typically consists of critical incident review, item writing, initial linkage, pilot administration, item/cluster analysis (and/or other measures of internal consistency), and post hoc validation.
Education & training
Psychologists performing these activities develop and present training materials and programs to instruct agency personnel in the proper use and interpretation of assessment instruments as well as to assure the implementation of proper policies for dissemination and storage of assessment related information. They also perform personal and/or group consultation to aid in design/modification of preemployment and promotional selection policies that are consistent with professional standards (e.g., Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing AERA/APA; Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures, SIOP; CFR Title29 Part 1607).
These activities involve evaluating and documenting validity, reliability, and objectivity (disparate impact) of the assessment instruments and processes currently in use at an agency, as well as recommending, designing, and/or implementing modifications to maximize effectiveness, validity, and defensibility.
Psychologists conducting assessment related process improvement evaluate and document the overall results of agency assessment processes. For example, one focus of evaluation might be on efficiency (fiscal, manpower, time lines, etc.) as reflected in recruitment yield, training yield, quality of new hire performance, etc. Data to support these efforts may be derived from objective data and/or surveys of academy personnel, training officers, etc. Once the data are gathered and analyzed, the psychologist/consultant may make recommendations for improvement and/or participate in agency-based task forces, problem-solving committees, etc.
This activity involves personal and/or group consultation to aid in design/modification of preemployment and promotional selection policies that are consistent with professional standards (e.g., Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing AERA/APA; Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures, SIOP; CFR Title29 Part 1607).
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Employee assistance counseling
Employee assistance counseling is a psychological service provided for law enforcement employees who may be experiencing personal, psychological, or behavioral problems that may adversely affect their job performance and productivity. The services provided vary from agency to agency. Although many programs were originally designed to provide counseling for substance abuse, particularly alcohol-related problems, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) have expanded to provide counseling regarding a wide variety of problems, including psychological and stress-related disorders, marital and family problems, financial difficulties and problems adjusting to retirement. Many EAPs also offer services to the eligible dependents of law enforcement employees. Police psychologists provide early detection of employee problems, problem assessment, short-term counseling, referral to longer-term outside treatment resources, follow-up services, employee education, and training for management in how to make appropriate use of the EAP, in an effort to foster growth, resiliency and effectiveness in the individual and in the work place. Employee assistance counseling may be provided as one component of a broader array of psychological services. Law enforcement employee assistance counseling is tailored to meet the needs of a unique culture and a specialized work force (e.g., a closed community in a quasi-military structure, functioning under the cumulative weight of several stressors, including shift-work and insomnia). The police psychologist must have a thorough understanding of the law enforcement culture and work environment in order to assess where his/her skills and resources might be of greatest assistance.
Individual therapy or counseling
Individual therapy and counseling are broad terms used to describe a variety of psychological services provided to individuals, typically in a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting with a police psychologist. In the law enforcement setting, this includes providing treatment or advice concerning a wide range of possible concerns related to the individual’s goals, needs, values, attitudes, conflicts, personal and interpersonal styles, education and career choice, academic and work functions, and developmental and social challenges unique to law enforcement personnel. Individual therapy or counseling may focus on stressors and problems most relevant to law enforcement personnel and the unique nature of their jobs that adversely impact their families, marriages, health, finances, and work performance/productivity. Therapy and counseling can consist of psycho-education, behavioral training, cognitive training, and a variety of other techniques intended to assist law enforcement personnel in identifying maladaptive or problematic patterns of thought and behavior that result in emotional distress, social, and/or occupational problems. Normally, individual therapy and counseling are provided with legal and ethical guarantees of confidentiality on the part of the therapist or counselor, and information about the services can only be disclosed by the therapist or counselor with the written, informed consent of the individual client.
Group, couple, family therapy or counseling
Group, couple, and family therapy or counseling are broad terms used to describe a variety of psychological services provided to more than one individual at a time. In the law enforcement setting, groups typically consist of law enforcement employees. Couple therapy or counseling focuses on the law enforcement employee and his/her spouse. Similarly, family therapy or counseling focuses on the law enforcement employee and his/her family members. These forms of psychological service address the same issues addressed in individual therapy and employ many of the same techniques. They additionally allow participants to practice more adaptive interpersonal interactions in a controlled environment, and give them greater access to the perspectives of others, enabling them to develop more adaptive interpersonal response patterns. These services are provided with legal and ethical guarantees of confidentiality on the part of the therapist or counselor. However, maintenance of confidentiality in a group, couple, or family therapy setting is inherently more difficult due to the number of participants who are not legally bound to maintain confidentiality of the material discussed. Police psychologists may also provide services to groups that consist of the spouses of police officers, or other family members of police officers, without the participation of the officers themselves. Police psychologists may provide information to spouses or family members about the unique working conditions of law enforcement, the types of stresses experienced by police officers, effective ways to support and interact with the family member who is a law enforcement officer, and other information intended to facilitate positive and satisfying interactions within the couple or the family.
Critical incident debriefing/defusing
Police officers in the course of their job duties may be exposed to critical incidents, which are traumatic events that are outside the range of normal human experience. These types of events include, but are not limited to, witnessing or being involved in situations involving accidents, natural disasters, deaths, serious injuries, or extreme danger. These types of events would be expected to produce a significant physiological, emotional, psychological, or behavioral reaction in anyone, and they often temporarily overwhelm the normal coping abilities of the individual. Although it is assumed that temporary negative reactions to a critical incident would be expected from almost anyone exposed to a similar incident, if such experiences are not dealt with properly, the individual may subsequently develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other disturbances of psychological and behavioral functioning. Critical incident early intervention, also referred to as debriefing, encompasses initial, immediate efforts to meet the needs of law enforcement officers impacted by a critical incident, ideally taking place from one to a few days after the incident, or up to three to four weeks after a mass disaster. Services can be provided individually, or in groups of individuals affected by the same incident, in sessions that typically last from one to three hours. Intervention typically consists of providing opportunities for the affected individual(s) to describe the event and their reactions to it, in a setting that provides emotional support and reassurance, and education about the wide range of expected and typical responses to such an event. The intervention is designed to: (1) address the need for acute symptom reduction while not interfering with natural recovery processes, (2) preclude the development of maladaptive responses or maladaptive problem-solving, (3) facilitate social support and effective communications, (4) restore individual(s) to a pre-crisis, independent level of functioning, (5) provide closure, if possible, and (6) refer for more advanced care as necessary.
Critical incident therapy or counseling
Critical incident therapy or counseling refers to a broad range of psychological services provided to individuals impacted by a critical incident. These services are provided after the initial, immediate time period following the critical incident, when it has become clear that the individual’s reaction to the incident has not resolved. Critical incident therapy or counseling is intended to treat continuing symptoms of a pathological stress reaction. Services may be provided to individuals, groups, couples, or families. The approach with the most empirical support is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but other approaches such as Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) have also been shown to be effective. Counseling approaches generally are based on the military intervention principles of immediacy, proximity, and expectancy, the process of grieving, the understanding of normal developmental life crisis, and the nature of emotionally hazardous situations.
Counseling or debriefing to cope with unique or chronic job stressors
Police officers frequently confront extremely unpleasant situations and behavior in the performance of their job (e.g., accidents; homicides; violent crimes and crime scenes; domestic violence; child abuse; hostage situations; suicides, officer-involved shootings or line-of-duty deaths; and handling human remains after disasters or other deaths). Some assignments, such as investigation of homicides, child abuse, or sex crimes, regularly expose officers to such unpleasant events. Other specialized assignments, such as undercover assignments, create a unique variety of stressors, such as the constant vigilance required to maintain an alternate identity, fears of exposure, separations from family and friends, and even pressures to commit criminal acts. The cumulative effect of such regular stressors may cause temporary or chronic psychological distress and/or problems with functioning, similar to that experienced by officers who have been exposed to a particularly traumatic critical incident. Police psychologists can identify these types of reactions in officers, and use a variety of counseling or therapy techniques designed to assist officers in recognizing and understanding their reactions to these cumulative “everyday” police stressors, and ameliorating the negative psychological or behavioral effects that they may be experiencing.
Disabilities are not necessarily permanent and in fact have recovery rates that can be understood in terms of various demographic and psychosocial resource variables. In the event that a psychological disability prevents a police officer from properly performing his/her assigned duties, the police psychologist may assist the officer and the department by assessing and documenting the presence of the disability, which might otherwise be mistaken for a disciplinary problem or some other sort of difficulty. In the case of medical and/or psychological disabilities, the police psychologist can also provide assistance in obtaining certain disability benefits, such as modified occupational duties, reasonable accommodations, vocational rehabilitation, and psychological assessment and services. The police psychologist may also review applicable policies and procedures allowing the injured officer to work within his/her medical or psychological restrictions/capabilities in temporary or permanent work assignments.
Substance abuse treatment
Substance abuse treatment is an umbrella term used to refer to the processes of medical and/or psychotherapeutic treatment for dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines. The goal of the police psychologist is to provide or facilitate the provision of intervention services to enable the police officer to cease substance abuse in order to avoid the psychological, legal, financial, social, and physical consequences that can result.
Mental attitude preparation
Police psychologists assist law enforcement officers with psychological preparation that helps them to gain self-confidence and an ability to coordinate cognitions, emotions, and behavior in an optimally adaptive manner. The police psychologist prepares the officer not just in terms of technical skill and knowledge, but also in terms of an optimally adaptive attitude that enables him/her to be flexible and innovative. The general goal is to train the officer in an attitude that leads him/her to view situations as challenges or opportunities rather than risks or potential failures. Mental attitude preparation may also involve more specific training to inculcate the proper orientation and attitude toward an assignment that may present unique difficulties. For example, without prior mental preparation, an officer might hesitate or even fail to shoot at a legitimate target that is not consistent with his or her stereotyped expectations.
Many agencies have created programs aimed at preventing or reducing the negative impact of stress on health. These wellness programs are health protection programs that promote physical and mental fitness and well-being, and environmental and occupational health. Many varieties of wellness programs exist, many of which focus primarily on physical fitness. Ideally, such programs should also include elements for enhancing stress management, social communication skills, psychological/mental health, nutrition and diet, cessation of maladaptive habits, and substance dependence treatment and education. The police psychologist’s role in wellness training is to assist law enforcement officers toward improving their lifestyles through learning new, health-enhancing behaviors and coping mechanisms to more effectively deal with the inherent stressors of police work that adversely impact job performance. Through the improvement of physical and mental health behaviors, wellness programs are intended to reduce health care costs, improve job performance and morale, decrease absenteeism, increase productivity, generate higher health satisfaction, and facilitate achievement of the agency’s operational missions.
Life coaching is the practice of assisting law enforcement personnel to determine and achieve personal goals. A police psychologist, serving as a coach, will use a variety of methods tailored to the client’s needs, to move him/her through the process of setting and reaching goals. Coaching is not targeted at psychological illness, and coaches are not functioning as therapists (although therapists may be coaches). Life coaching in law enforcement is typically used to address: (1) development of high-potential leaders and leadership effectiveness, (2) change in required competencies or job skills, (3) change in management and succession planning, (4) improvement of under-performing police supervisors or executives, (5) departmental and personnel needs to surpass perceived potential limits or performance stagnation, (6) problems involving cultural misalignments with law enforcement job requirements, and (7) breakdowns in communication.
Education & training
Intervention-related education and training conducted by police psychologists consists of attempts to prevent and/or ameliorate problematic behaviors in law enforcement officers by providing individual or group education and training about the causes and consequences of such behaviors, as well as techniques for changing behavior. Such training typically focuses on critical issues in law enforcement, such as understanding and controlling: (1) police use of deadly force; (2) deviant or corrupt police behavior; (3) police prejudice and discrimination; (4) the violence-prone police officer; or (5) substance abuse by police officers. Police psychologists might also provide information about stress management or other psychological health and wellness issues within an educational or work setting, rather than in a clinical setting.
Police psychologists provide many services and interventions designed to prevent occupational stress-related problems in law enforcement officers and to restore officers to optimal functioning when such problems exist. The practical imperative of ensuring the effective use of finite resources, together with an ethical imperative to demonstrate that such interventions are effective, require that the methodology of police psychologists be based on sound empirical evidence. Intervention-related research by police psychologists provides that empirical evidence, through the use of the scientific method to develop and test hypotheses concerning effective interventions for police officers and police organizations. Ideally, such research will focus on the effectiveness of interventions with the law enforcement population itself and will take into account the unique culture and working conditions of law enforcement, however, more general clinical research designed to answer questions about the effectiveness of various intervention methods can also sometimes be successfully generalized to law enforcement. Such research, for example, might explore the impact of a variety of occupational factors on physical and mental health and functioning of law enforcement officers, or might compare the efficacy of alternative intervention methods in the prevention or treatment of stress-related problems.
Psychologists engaged in intervention-related process improvement employ interdisciplinary and intergroup partnerships, which view ongoing learning as an essential process for attaining and maintaining optimal functioning of the individual and the organization. It can be understood as "learning by collaborative design." It generally entails (1) increasing awareness of various performance improvement options, (2) proposing an intervention or a series of interventions to eliminate a performance gap, (3) selecting interventions with a view toward their systemic impact, and (4) learning how to implement and refine interventions more effectively. Intervention related process improvement includes a program of process and peer review. The police psychologist reviews and evaluates service programs and client services to ensure adherence to accepted standards of practice and legal parameters and submits clinical work before peers for review.
Intervention-related consultation consists of systemic principles, approaches, and models of consultation designed to ameliorate technical, social, and emotional performance problems exhibited by members of an organization and to enhance organizational as well as individual competence. The principle objective of intervention-related consultation is to improve the accessibility, availability, effectiveness, and appropriateness of law enforcement services. Objectives include, but are not limited to: (1) identifying gaps in existing law enforcement mental health training and related services (e.g., ensure that officers are equipped with the right skills and competences used to manage encounters with the seriously mentally ill offender); (2) developing and evaluating multidisciplinary and culturally-sensitive law enforcement consultation services that specializes in mental health evaluation and treatment; (3) facilitating access to expertise in mental health by developing a network of police psychologists, clinicians, databases, and internet resources; and (4) offering ongoing professional training to promote the development of competency in law enforcement intervention among mental health practitioners, particularly those who offer frontline or primary care services.
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Intelligence & information gathering:
Psychological intelligence encompasses a broad range of activities and involves the application of psychological knowledge, principles, and methods to aid police in criminal investigations. These activities can include gathering, organizing, integrating, or interpreting case information; advising or participating in witness, informant or suspect interviews; and specialized operational support (e.g., see criminal profiling and psychological autopsies). Psychological intelligence is used by police investigators in both active and cold cases.
Criminal profiling involves the identification of personality, behavioral, and demographic factors characteristic of the perpetrators of particular crimes or criminal patterns. Criminal profiles are used by police investigators to help narrow the scope of criminal suspects or to aid in generating investigative leads.
Psychological autopsies intended to facilitate case resolution:
In the Operational Domain, psychological autopsies are used to support death investigations and to facilitate case resolution. A psychological autopsy is a postmortem, postdictive psychological investigative procedure by which a person’s circumstances and psychological state of mind at the time leading up to his/her death are reconstructed, in order to help determine the manner of death, whether suicide, homicide, or accidental. Psychological autopsies are most useful when the evidence of the decedent’s intention is equivocal. They entail reviewing medical and police reports, photos, drawings, and records, interviewing witnesses and people who knew the victim, visiting the scene, and using knowledge of personality theory, suicidology, and psychology in general, to form an integrated picture of the subject’s personality characteristics and state of mind, and the circumstances leading up to his/her death.
Police psychologists routinely serve on an agency’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) to support the achievement of a peaceful, nonlethal resolution of critical incidents, such as barricaded subjects, suicidal persons, and active threats of serious violence against persons or property. The psychologist has several functions as a CNU consultant, including the ongoing and continuous monitoring of negotiations, translating relevant information and behavior of the hostage taker, assessing violence risk, managing the stress level of the negotiator and liaisons, recommending strategies to the negotiator for managing the behavior and emotions of the hostage taker, and helping to assess the hostage taker’s motivations.
Counterterrorism/anti-terrorism operations are designed to prevent, detect and/or disrupt acts of aggression or terrorism against U.S. assets and interests. Psychologists frequently serve as consultants to these operations primarily by focusing on the anarchist’s, terrorist’s, or other aggressor’s emotions, motives, decision making, and behaviors, as well as by helping to achieve and maintain optimum performance of these specialized operational units under conditions of extreme stress and high stakes.
Counterintelligence is the process used to block, corrupt, or disrupt a hostile entity’s gathering of accurate information about law enforcement or other government agencies and their affiliates. Psychologists are utilized to develop and apply techniques and methods of counterintelligence and in training personnel in this area.
Indirect assessment encompasses a wide array of activities in which the psychologist relies on third-party information to form conclusions about the psychological traits, behavioral proclivities, functioning, and intentions of a particular person. It is used whenever the psychologist is asked to form opinions or make predictions about a person without the benefit of direct contact, and it is fundamental to many of the proficiencies described elsewhere under the Operational Domain (e.g., Psychological Autopsies, Criminal Profiling, etc.). The IACP Police Psychological Services Section has published guidelines for this area of practice (see "Guidelines for Consulting Police Psychologists").
Threat assessment is employed to evaluate and manage persons who are identified as possibly posing a risk of substantial harm to the assets or mission of the police agency. When the source of the threat is an employee, the assessment occurs in the context of a "Workplace Violence Assessment" or "Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation" (see definitions for these proficiencies under the Assessment Domain). Threat assessment concerns itself with the factors that increase (risk factors) and decrease (protective factors) the likelihood of harm, as well as methods for minimizing or managing risk.
Education & training:
Police psychologists frequently are called upon to educate police personnel on a wide variety of psychological topics central to police operations, including criminal psychology, psychopathology (e.g., psychotic disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders, etc.), and memory. Psychologists also assist in operational training, such as enhancing performance under peak stress conditions, crisis negotiation (e.g., active-listening skills, persuasion techniques, crisis intervention, assessment of personality types, threat assessment, aggression potential, and high-fidelity role playing), survival training, and suicide prevention.
Police psychologists carry out research on a broad range of topics designed to support police operations, including factors associated with successful vs. unsuccessful operational outcomes; demographic and personality factors of criminal perpetrators; and risk vs. protective factors under various conditions of threat.
As ancillary participants in police operations who are also skilled process observers, police psychologists are uniquely qualified to identify potential improvements to operational processes, both investigative and tactical.
This activity involves individual and/or group consultation to support achievement of operational goals and objectives. The IACP Police Psychological Services Section has published guidelines for this area of practice (see "Guidelines for Consulting Police Psychologists").
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Development of performance appraisal systems:
This activity involves the design and development of organizational policies, processes and instruments for measurement and feedback of individual job performance. Typically, these appraisals are completed by supervisors and other relevant members of the chain of command. However, some performance appraisals may also include data from others (peers, subordinates, community member, etc.). The primary purpose of any performance appraisal system is to provide meaningful, actionable feedback to the incumbent for purpose of individual performance improvement and career development. However, in some settings, performance appraisal data may also be used as a component of promotional selection and or for selection to special assignments. Composite data from performance appraisals may also be used by management for training needs assessments and manpower/succession planning. When performance appraisals are utilized as a component of selection processes, content validity as well as precise attention to construction of measurement components, training of assessors, assessment policy, etc. is critical. The psychologist/consultant may design and deliver these processes/instruments in total or may participate as a professional advisor to an agency task force.
Whereas individual employees are the focus of performance appraisal, organizational development programs focus on improving organizational performance. Most organizational development programs start with an organizational assessment yielding actionable data in regard to training needs, leadership climate, morale, values/culture, etc. Organizational development goals are then formulated and program components are designed and implemented in order to achieve these goals. Organizational development program components frequently include, but are not limited to, leadership development training, employee problem-solving groups, content-based training programs, specialized training programs (e.g., management decision making, ethics, communication, field training/performance coaching, relationship/diversity training, etc.), evaluation of policies and procedures, and strategic planning. Periodic program evaluation (and modification when appropriate) is a critical component of any organizational development program.
Psychologists engage in consultation with agency executives for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to, personnel-related issues (selection, individual performance issues, interpersonal problems, etc.), leadership-related issues (style, impact, relationships, team building), organizational issues (agency mission and strategy, values, culture) general performance issues (coaching) and/or personal issues. These consultations are typically focused, time limited, and confidential in nature.
Psychologists engage in consultation with agency managers for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to, training needs assessment, recommendation or design of training programs and/or shift staffing policies, time management consultation, etc. Management consultation may also include the activities described under "executive consultation."
This activity centers on specific supervision-related issues such as counseling problem employees, managing relationships with subordinates and superiors, effective management of disciplinary incidents, time management, etc. These consultations may also include some of the activities described under "executive consultation."
Process consultation involves a process by which the consultant engages in mutual inquiry designed to create a shared responsibility for diagnosing problems and generating solutions, but also to enable the consultant to pass on some of his or her own diagnostic and intervention skills. Process consultation is generally contrasted with "expert consultation" in which the consultant independently diagnoses and fixes problems. Nearly all management and organizational consulting involves a mix of expert and process models, with the consultant frequently shifting roles to meet the needs of the situation.
Psychologists trained in mediation theory and techniques often facilitate the resolution of interpersonal conflict among individuals within an organization, between organizational units, and between the agency and members of the public. Mediation also is used effectively in resolving policy disputes, labor conflicts, and other grievances. Many states provide mediation with statutory protections, including protections against compulsory disclosure of mediation related communications, if the mediator and the mediation process meet certain statutory requirements (e.g., minimum training and experience, use of standard mediation agreement language, etc.).
Implementation of multi-rater feedback systems:
Multirater feedback, also known as multisource or 360-degree feedback, involves performance evaluation feedback gathered about a person from two or more rating sources, including self, supervisor, peers, direct reports, internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, and vendors or suppliers. Consulting psychologists often design and/or implement multirater feedback systems, and many also integrate them with personality assessment in order to assist the subject or "target" of the feedback in understanding how his or her behavior may contribute to strengths and developmental needs.
Education & training:
Consulting psychologists provide education and training to assist agency personnel in optimizing their leadership, management, and supervisory effectiveness. The broad array of consulting psychology topics amenable to education and training efforts include organizational change, leadership transformation, ethical decision making, managing in a multicultural workforce, etc.
Consulting police psychologists engage in empirical research intended to aid executives and managers in better understanding, anticipating, and managing the complexities of organizational behavior, particularly in paramilitary settings.
This tab contains a listing of published articles and professional research as well as links to practice guidelines developed and published by our section. The articles and references are also indexed to the 4 domains.
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Disclaimer: This site and the information below should be accessed for professional informational purposes only. The information contained here is not intended to diagnose or to treat a medical, personal or psychological problem.
SOCIETY FOR POLICE AND CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY
FORCE SCIENCE RESEARCH CENTER
HEALTH & WELLNESS
INTERNET AND COMPUTER SAFETY
Preventing Law Enforcement Officer Suicide: A Compilation of Resources and Best Practices
TRAUMA & PTSD
FOR OUR VETS
GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH
Our section holds a meeting each year at the IACP convention. This tab contains liknks to session agendas and other program information for both upcoming and past meetings.
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