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Police Psychologists: Roles and Responsibilities in a Law Enforcement Agency

By Philip S. Trompetter, PhD, Immediate Past General Chair, IACP Police Psychological Services Section, Modesto, California

his special issue of Police Chief magazine was developed by 33 members of the IACP Police Psychological Services Section (PPSS) and comes 25 years after the section was elevated from an ad hoc committee to section status. The IACP-PPSS was formed during a gathering of police psychologists attending a conference at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, in August 1984. The group met again in Salt Lake City, Utah, in October 1984 at the annual IACP conference as an ad hoc committee. On October 25, 1984, the IACP Executive Board voted to establish the ad hoc committee as a standing committee. The Police Psychological Services Committee first convened on October 13, 1985, at the annual IACP conference in Houston, Texas, with the purpose of providing psychological services to IACP member agencies. The Police Psychological Services Committee was elevated to full section status in 1986 at the annual IACP conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

Since that time, the IACP-PPSS has grown to become a well-organized professional association comprising more than 200 doctoral-level police psychologists from the United States and abroad. The section holds an annual three-day meeting in conjunction with the IACP conference. Among other activities, the IACP-PPSS has become a national leader in the development of professional guidelines in a variety of critical areas of practice. Over the past 25 years, the goal of the section has remained the same: to advance the field of police psychological services through information and training for the IACP and for psychologists interested in developing their knowledge and skills in police psychology. The invitation to present a special police psychological issue of Police Chief magazine is a wonderful opportunity to do just that.

Police and public safety psychology consist of the application of the science and profession of psychology in four primary domains of practice: assessment, clinical intervention, operational support, and organizational consulting. Police and public safety psychology require distinct knowledge of the following: the essential functions of police and public safety personnel, the working conditions unique to their respective ranks and assignments, the common and novel stressors inherent in public safety work, the normal and abnormal adaptation to occupational stress and trauma, the research pertinent to resilience and recovery in public safety personnel, and the unique aspects of confidentiality and testimonial privilege when providing services to public safety personnel and agencies. Specialized knowledge beyond this foundation is needed for practice within each of the four domains of practice.

This special issue of Police Chief magazine showcases many of the proficiencies police psychologists bring to law enforcement agencies and their personnel. Some of these proficiencies will be more familiar to readers than others. The articles are intended to educate chiefs and their agencies about the value a police psychologist can bring to organizational and individual functioning and particularly those police functions that can be enhanced with increased understanding from the science of human behavior.

In “Police Psychologists as Consultants,” John Nicoletti, PhD, and his team of coauthors highlight the many ways psychologists serve as consultants to law enforcement agencies. The article elaborates on a few of these areas, such as the important contribution a trained and experienced police psychologist can bring to a negotiation team callout. The article details the specific functions a specifically trained police psychologist brings to the negotiation process and incident command. A section of the article describes how police psychologists, trained and experienced in threat assessment, have knowledge and expertise in dealing with threats to government officials, threats to high-profile targets, and threats of school or workplace violence. The final section of the article describes how consultants can assist agencies that want to be more mindful of and responsive to officers’ family members.

In “Assessing the Psychological Suitability of Candidates for Law Enforcement Positions,” Yossef Ben-Porath, PhD, and his team of coauthors provide a thorough description of the process of preemployment psychological screenings. While psychological screening may be one of the most widely used and best understood functions in police psychology, this article updates critical information about changing legal and procedural elements.

In “The Role of Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations in Law Enforcement,” Gary Fischler, PhD, and a team of police psychologists offer a condensed description of what police executives should know and consider when an incumbent officer displays counterproductive behavior and a psychological condition is reasonably suspected. This article briefs police executives on when a fitness-for-duty evaluation may be in order. Dr. Fischler and his team anchor their guidance with pertinent case law as it clarifies this complex area of psychology and employment law.

In “Peer Support in Police Agencies,” Mark Kamena, PhD, and his coauthoring team offer information and guidance to departments wishing to establish a peer support program. Whether ancillary to reliance on a police psychologist or as the next best option when a police psychologist may not be readily available, peer support programs rely on trained officers to provide emotional support to other officers who are struggling with personal or professional problems.

In “Support and Sustain: Psychological Intervention for Law Enforcement Personnel,” Herb Gupton, PhD, and his coauthors discuss a variety of treatment interventions police psychologists can provide to officers and their families. Whether the department has an employee assistance program, offers critical incident debriefings, or has reintegration programs for returning veterans, this article offers direction to departments thinking about adding intervention services for their employees.

Finally, in “Board Certification in Police Psychology: What It Means to Public Safety,” David Corey, PhD, and his team of coauthors write about the recent development of a specialty board in Police and Public Safety Psychology. Akin to board certification for medicine, this specialty board will provide consumers of police psychological services a benchmark to attest to a level of basic competence when they seek police psychological services. This board may be the single most important development in police psychology since its inception.

The IACP-PPSS invites you to enjoy this special issue dedicated to the array of services available from a police psychologist. The section is proud to be part of the IACP and appreciates this opportunity to inform police executives about the many facets of police psychology. For more information about IACP-PPSS, visit ■

Please cite as:

Philip S. Trompetter, "Police Psychologists: Roles and Responsibilities in a Law Enforcement Agency," The Police Chief 78 (August 2011): 52.

Click to view the digital edition.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 8, August 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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