Gary Kaufmann, PsyD, and his fellow Michigan State Police psychologists operate in two distinct modes: a clinical one, in which they help police officers cope with job stress and mental health issues, and a criminal one in which they help officers track down and arrest criminals.
In their clinical mode, Kaufmann, head of the Michigan State Police's Office of Behavioral Science, and his staff counsel officers who seek assistance for such problems as substance abuse, job stress and family conflicts.
"The department has, from its inception, had a very forward-thinking attitude about mental health services and how they fold into law enforcement," says Kaufmann. "It takes the best advantage of psychologists of any police department in the country. They literally use us to our capacity."
He and his colleagues also respond to critical incidents--such as when an officer is killed in the line of duty or is suicidal--by providing on-the-scene support and follow-up with the affected individuals. And since it can take 16 hours to drive from one corner of Michigan to the other, the police department has no reservations about sending a psychologist to the scene via helicopter, plane or even a rare "red-light relay," where the psychologist hitches a ride from police car to police car--lights flashing and sirens wailing--until he or she reaches the jurisdiction in need of services.
In the criminal mode, Kaufmann's office assists officers in solving crimes and responds to high-pressure situations. "Our job is to help the officer translate the psychological dynamics observed into operational tactics," he says, emphasizing that this kind of work is always a team effort.
For example, a few years ago Kaufmann worked with Michigan State Police detectives to solve the murder of a local television news anchor in Marshall, Mich. At first, investigators believed a stalker or crazed fan shot the woman in her driveway. But after re-examining the way the woman was shot--in the manner of an execution, without any close interaction between the killer and the newscaster--it didn't seem as though a stranger had committed the crime, Kaufmann says. He and his colleagues began focusing on the woman's husband, who was eventually convicted of the murder. The theory the investigative team developed, says Kaufmann, was that the husband was jealous of the attention his wife gave their two children and her career.
"This is an arena in which a different kind of methodology is necessary in order to accomplish the goals of law enforcement: catching the bad guys," he explains. "While, at one end in our clinical work, we uphold the standards of a clinical psychologist to the nth degree, on the other end, those ethical standards just don't apply."
That may mean making judgments about a suspect without ever having direct contact with the person or recommending how to make a suspect more anxious to get a confession--methodologies that Kaufmann says aren't consistent with the typical clinical psychology model.
It's also important, Kaufmann adds, for his staff to understand that while psychologists see the complexities of human behavior, police want definite answers. For example, every time a SWAT team is called into a situation- a weekly occurrence--Kaufmann's office sends a psychologist to the scene. During such a hostage situation, officers may ask Kaufmann if he thinks the suspect will really hurt a hostage. In other words, can the suspect be talked down, or should officers storm the building to rescue those held captive?
"This is one situation where you really need to be able to step up to the plate and make a decision, recognizing that the recommendations you make may have life-or-death consequences," Kaufmann says.