For many police officers, the only time they have contact with a psychologist is when their job is on the line: for a screening to get into the police academy or for a fitness-for-duty evaluation after a disturbing incident.
"The very nature of how our system is set up [makes] officers wary of being involved with psychologists," explains Joel Fay, PsyD, a police officer and a psychologist.
But that's starting to change, thanks to police psychologists who are forming new partnerships with law enforcement. In addition to performing their usual roles in conducting fitness-for-duty assessments or working in employee-assistance programs, today's psychologists are helping police departments investigate crimes, become more effective organizations, provide better prevention and intervention services for officers and their families, and marshaling aid for mentally ill offenders.
These kinds of collaborative programs aren't the norm--yet. With most of the nation's 18,000 police departments employing 10 or fewer officers, few have the resources to assist troubled officers, let alone run prevention programs or hire psychologists to assist in crime investigations. But more departments are contracting with psychologists for consulting services, and larger departments often employ full-time psychologists.
Police psychologists caution that the No. 1 requisite for working with law enforcement is a thorough understanding of police culture--knowledge that can only be acquired by spending lots of time with officers: for example, riding along in patrol cars or sitting in on family orientations.
The Monitor takes a look at how five seasoned police psychologists are making a difference in their law enforcement communities.