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Back to Archives | Back to October 2008 Contents 

Police Psychology in the 21st Century

By David M. Corey, Police and Forensic Psychologist, Portland, Oregon; and Audrey L. Honig, Chief Psychologist, Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department; and Chair, Police Psychological Services Section, IACP

he delivery of psychological services to and on behalf of law enforcement agencies, their executives, and their employees is commonly referred to as police psychology. Over the nearly 100-year history of psychology’s partnership with the law enforcement community, the field of police psychology has expanded dramatically. Beginning in 1916 with intelligence testing of Los Angeles police applicants, this field was long constrained to a role in helping to select qualified police officers. Today, the field is extremely diverse and involves nearly 60 distinct services or competencies.1 Few, if any, police psychologists can stake a claim to all of these services or competencies, and almost all restrict their practices to only a relatively small number of them.

The IACP Police Psychological Services Section, in conjunction with members of the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology and the American Psychological Association (Division 18, Police and Public Safety Section), recently carried out a comprehensive survey of the field of police psychology. The Joint Committee on Police Psychology Competencies identified 57 separate competencies clustered or organized into four distinct domains of practice: assessment-related activities, intervention services, operational support, and organizational/management consultation (see the table).2

Police psychologists focus their activities on one of three primary groups: (1) the functional work units within law enforcement agencies (such as homicide investigations, hostage negotiation teams, patrol divisions, family services, personnel divisions, and so on); (2) police employees; and (3) applicants to the various entry-level, promotional, and specialty positions in law enforcement settings.

Police psychologists work in a variety of settings reflecting the four primary competency domains. Psychologists engaged in assessment carry out their work largely in private practice settings, universities, or government agencies. Those who conduct clinical interventions usually work in private and public health-care agencies (such as employee assistance programs or agency-specific employee counseling centers), universities, or private-practice settings, although some agencies employ their own clinical staff. Psychologists who provide operational support to police officers and police agencies typically conduct their work in the field, such as when participating in hostage negotiations, mediating conflict involving a person with serious mental illness, or performing a criminal profile. When engaged in organizational consultation, they work within police agencies, private-practice settings, universities, and other settings common to industrial-organizational and consulting psychologists.

In an effort to assist police administrators in better understanding the range of services provided by police psychologists, the Police Psychological Services Section recently completed a reconstruction of its Web site (accessible through as part of the larger IACP Web site so that detailed information about these various competencies, including selected publications, can be more easily accessed and updated.3 A searchable database, available only to IACP members, also will permit a search by state for Police Psychological Services Section members who may be able to provide particular services in each domain in their geographic area. ■


1In August 2008, the American Psychological Association formally recognized police psychology as a distinct proficiency in professional psychology with a core body of knowledge, skills, and standards of practice.
2Members of the Joint Committee on Police Psychology Competencies were Scott Allen, Ph.D.; Gary Aumiller, Ph.D.; JoAnne Brewster, Ph.D.; Dave Corey, Ph.D. (chair); Michael Cuttler, Ph.D.; Herb Gupton, Ph.D.; and Audrey L. Honig, Ph.D.
3Members of the Section Web Site Reconstruction Committee included Michael Cuttler, Ph.D. (chair); Bruce Cappo, Ph.D.; and Tony Stone, Ph.D.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 10, October 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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