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Back to Archives | Back to September 2005 Contents 

Guidelines for Police Psychological Service

By the IACP Police Psychological Services Section

he IACP Police Psychological Service Section provides guidelines for professional psychological practice to the law enforcement community. The guidelines cover pre-employment psychological evaluations, psychological fitness-for-duty evaluations, officer-involved shootings, and peer support.

The guidelines reflect currently accepted minimum standards but will be periodically revised to reflect new developments in case law, psychometrics, professional practices, and research.

For commentary on the latest pre-employment psychological evaluation services guidelines, see "Psychological Evaluation of Public Safety Applicants," by Stephen F. Curran, Ph.D., and Susan Saxe-Clifford, Ph.D., on the IACP Police Psychological Services Section's page at the IACP's Web site, (

The IACP Board of Officers approved the following guidelines earlier this year.

Pre-employment Psychological Evaluation Services Guidelines

The following statements are guidelines for professional practice in the area of pre-employment psychological evaluations of candidates for public safety positions. These positions include but are not limited to positions where incumbents have arrest authority or the legal authority to detain and confine individuals. These guidelines are presented as a recommended professional policy for public safety agencies and individuals who are charged with the responsibility of conducting defensible pre-employment psychological screening programs.

Psychologists must adhere to ethical principles and standards for practice, including the standards of the American Psychological Association.

1.     Pre-employment psychological assessments should be used as one component of the overall selection process.

2.     Before conducting their own clinical assessments of candidates, practitioners should be familiar with the research literature available on psychological testing for public safety positions, as well as the state and federal laws relevant to this area of practice, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

3.     Except as allowed or permitted by law, only licensed or certified psychologists trained and experienced in psychological test interpretation and law enforcement psychological assessment techniques should conduct psychological screening for public safety agencies.

4.     Data on attributes considered most important for effective performance in a particular position should be obtained from job analysis, interview, surveys, or other appropriate sources.

5.     Efforts should be made to provide agency administrators with information regarding the benefits and limitations of psychological assessment procedures so that realistic goals may be set.

6.     Provisions should be made for the security of all testing materials (e.g., test booklets). Provisions should also be made for the security of, access to, and retention of the psychological report and raw data.

7.     Prior to the administration of any psychological instruments and psychologist interview, the candidate should sign an informed consent to the conditions of the evaluation. The informed consent should clearly state the agency is the client.

8.     A test battery including objective, job-related, validated psychological instruments should be administered to the applicant. It is preferable that test results be available to the evaluator before screening interviews are conducted.

9.     Written tests selected should be validated for use with public safety candidates.

10.     If mail-order, Internet-based, or computerized tests are employed, the licensed or certified psychologist conducting the follow-up interview should verify and interpret individual results.

11.     The pre-employment psychological evaluation must be conducted in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A psychological evaluation is considered "medical" if it provides evidence that could lead to identifying a mental or emotional disorder or impairment as listed in the DSM-IV, and therefore must only be conducted after the applicant has been tendered a conditional offer of employment.

Personality tests and other methods of inquiry that are not medical by the above definition and that do not include specific prohibited topics or inquiries may be conducted at the pre-offer stage. However, these assessments are alone not capable of determining a candidate's emotional stability and therefore would not constitute an adequate pre-employment psychological evaluation.

12.     Individual, face-to-face interviews with candidates should be conducted before a final psychological report is submitted.

13.     A semi-structured, job-related interview format should be employed with all candidates.
14.     Interviews should be scheduled to allow for sufficient time to cover appropriate background and test results verification.

15.     Public safety agency administrators directly involved in making employment decisions should be provided with written reports. These reports should evaluate the suitability of the candidate for the position based upon an analysis of all psychological material including test data and interview results. Reports to the agency should contain a rating and/or recommendation for employment based upon the results of the screening, justification for the recommendation and/or rating, and any reservations that the psychologist might have regarding the validity or reliability of the results.

16.     While a clinical assessment of overall psychological suitability and stability may be made, clinical diagnoses or psychiatric labeling of candidates should be avoided when the goal of the assessment is to identify candidates whose psychological traits may adversely affect specific job performance. In all cases, the screening should be focused on an individual candidate's ability to perform the essential functions of the position under consideration.

17.     Specific cut-off scores should be avoided, unless there is clear statistical evidence that such scores are valid and have been cross-validated in research studies by the test developer or in the agency where they will be used. If cut-off scores are used, the report should acknowledge their use and the basis for using the specific cut-off level. Conclusions concerning a candidate's qualifications should be based on consistencies across data sources rather than on a single source.

18.     Clear disclaimers should be made so that reports evaluating current emotional and behavioral traits or suitability for a public safety position will not be deemed valid after a specific period of time.

19.     Care should be taken when using pre-employment test results for purposes other than making pre-employment decisions and for monitoring the candidate during the probationary period. Follow-up research may be conducted with agency approval and where individual identities are protected. Pre-employment reports should not be used for positions not expressly considered by the psychologist at the time of the evaluation.

20.     Continuing collaborative efforts by the hiring agency and evaluating psychologist should be made to validate final suitability ratings using behavioral criteria measures.

21.     Each agency should maintain adverse impact analyses in order to detect any discriminatory patterns of the psychological screening program.

22.     Psychologists should be prepared to defend their procedures, conclusions, and commendations if a decision based, even in part, on psychological results is challenged.   ■

Ratified by the IACP Police Psychological Services Section, Los Angeles, California, 2004


Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation Guidelines

The IACP Psychological Services Section developed these guidelines for use by public safety agencies and mental health examiners. These guidelines are not intended to establish a rigid standard of practice for psychological fitness-for-duty evaluations (FFDEs). Instead, they are intended to reflect the commonly accepted practices of the section members and the agencies they serve. Each of the guidelines may not apply in a specific case or in all situations. The decision as to what is or is not done in a particular instance is ultimately the responsibility of each agency and professional examiner.

A psychological FFDE is a formal, specialized examination of an incumbent employee that results from (1) objective evidence that the employee may be unable to safely or effectively perform a defined job and (2) a reasonable basis for believing that the cause may be attributable to psychological factors. The central purpose of an FFDE is to determine whether the employee is able to safely and effectively perform his or her essential job functions.

Threshold Considerations
1.     Referring an employee for an FFDE is indicated whenever there is an objective and reasonable basis for believing that the employee may be unable to safely or effectively perform his or her duties due to psychological factors. An objective basis is one that is not merely speculative but derives from direct observation, credible third-party report, or other reliable evidence.

2.     FFDEs necessarily intrude on the personal privacy of the examinee and therefore should be conducted after the employer has determined that other options are inappropriate or inadequate in light of the facts of a particular case. The FFDE is not to be used as a substitute for disciplinary action.

3.     If an employer is uncertain whether its observations and concerns warrant an FFDE, it may be useful to discuss them with the employer's examiner or legal counsel prior to mandating the examination.

Examiner Qualifications
4.     In light of the nature of these evaluations and the potential consequences to the agency, the examinee, and the public, it is important for examiners to perform FFDEs with maximum attention to the relevant legal, ethical, and practice standards, with particular concern for statutory and case law applicable to the employing agency's jurisdiction. Consequently, these evaluations should be conducted only by a qualified mental health professional. At a minimum, the examiner should

     a.     be a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist with education, training, and experience in the diagnostic evaluation of mental and emotional disorders;
     b.     possess training and experience in the evaluation of law enforcement personnel;
     c.     be familiar with the police psychology literature and the essential job functions of the employee being evaluated;
     d.     be familiar with relevant state and federal statutes and case law, as well as other legal requirements related to employment and personnel practices (e.g., disability, privacy, third-party liability); and
     e.     satisfy any other minimum requirements imposed by local jurisdiction or law.
5.     When an FFDE is known to be in the context of litigation, arbitration, or another adjudicative process, the examiner should have particular training and experience in forensic psychological or psychiatric assessment. In such cases, the examiner should be prepared by training and experience to qualify as an expert in any related adjudicative proceeding.
Identifying the Client

6.     The client in an FFDE is the employer, not the employee being evaluated, and this fact should be communicated to all involved parties at the outset of the evaluation. Nevertheless, the examiner owes an ethical duty to both parties to be fair and impartial and to honor their respective legal rights and interests. Other legal duties also may be owed to the examinee as a result of statutory or case law unique to the employer's or the examiner's jurisdiction.

7.     Examiners should decline to accept an FFDE referral when personal, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (a) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions or (b) expose the person or agency with whom the professional relationship exists to harm or exploitation (e.g., conducting an FFDE on an employee who had previously been a confidential counseling or therapy client, evaluating an employee with whom there has been a business or significant social relationship). Similarly, an FFDE examiner should be mindful of potential conflicts of interest related to recommendations or the provision of services following the evaluation (e.g., referring an examinee to oneself for subsequent treatment). If such conflicts are unavoidable or deemed to be of minimal impact, the examiner should nevertheless disclose the potential conflict to all affected parties.

Referral Process
8.     It is desirable that employers have FFDE policies and procedures that define such matters as circumstances that would give rise to an FFDE referral, mechanisms of referral and examiner selection, any applicable report restrictions, sharing results with the examinee, and other related matters.

9.     The employer's referral to the examiner should include, at a minimum, a description of the objective evidence giving rise to concerns about the employee's fitness for duty and any particular questions that the employer needs the examiner to address. In most circumstances, this referral should be documented in writing.

10.     In the course of conducting the FFDE, it is usually necessary for the examiner to receive background and collateral information regarding the employee's past and recent performance, conduct, and functioning. The information might include, but is not limited to, performance evaluations, previous remediation efforts, commendations, testimonials, internal affairs investigations, formal citizen or public complaints, use-of-force incidents, reports related to officer-involved shootings, civil claims, disciplinary actions, incident reports of any triggering events, medical records, or other supporting or relevant documentation related to the employee's psychological fitness for duty. In some cases, examiners may ask the examinee to provide medical/psychological treatment records and other data for the examiner to consider.

11.     When some portion of the information requested by an examiner is unavailable or is withheld, the examiner must judge the extent to which the absence of such information may limit the reliability or validity of his or her findings and conclusions before deciding to proceed. If the examiner proceeds with the examination, the subsequent report should include a discussion of any such limitations judged to exist.

Informed Consent & Authorization
12.     An FFDE requires the informed consent of the examinee to participate in the examination. At a minimum, informed consent should include a description of the nature and scope of the evaluation; the limits of confidentiality, including any information that may be disclosed to the employer without the examinee's authorization; the potential outcomes and probable uses of the examination; and other provisions consistent with legal and ethical standards for mental health evaluations conducted at the request of third parties.

13.     In addition to obtaining informed consent, the examiner should obtain written authorization from the employee to release the examiner's findings and opinions to the employer. If such authorization is denied, or if it is withdrawn once the examination commences, the examiner should be aware of any legal restrictions in the information that may be disclosed to the employer without valid authorization. With valid written authorization, an examiner is free to disclose unrestricted information to the employer.

Evaluation Process
14. Depending on the referral question and the examiner's clinical judgment, an FFDE typically relies on multiple methods and data sources in order to optimize the reliability and validity of findings. The range of methods and data sources frequently includes
     a.     a review of the requested background information (e.g., personnel records, medical records, incident reports or memos);
     b.     psychological testing using assessment instruments (e.g., personality, psychopathology, cognitive, specialized) appropriate to the referral question(s);
     c.     a comprehensive, face-to-face clinical interview;
     d.     collateral interviews with relevant third parties if deemed necessary by the examiner; and
     e.     referral to, and consultation with, a specialist if deemed necessary by the examiner.
15.     Prior to conducting collateral interviews of third parties, care should be taken to obtain informed consent from the employer, the examinee, or from the third party, as appropriate. This should include, at a minimum, explanation of the purpose of the interview, how the information will be used, and any limits to confidentiality.

Report and Recommendations
16.     Customarily, the examiner will provide a written report to the client agency that contains a description of the rationale for the FFDE, the methods employed, and whenever possible, a clearly articulated opinion that the examinee is presently fit or unfit for unrestricted duty. The content of the report should be guided by consideration of the terms of informed consent, the employee's authorization, the pertinence of the content to the examinee's psychological fitness, the employing agency's written policies and procedures, the applicable terms of any labor agreement, and relevant law.

17.     When an examinee is found unfit for unrestricted duty, the report should contain, whenever possible, the following minimum information unless prohibited by law, agency policy, labor agreement, the terms of the employee's disclosure authorization, or other considerations:
a.     a description of the employee's functional impairments or job relevant limitations; and
b.     an estimate of the likelihood of, and time frame for, a return to unrestricted duty, and the basis for that estimate.

18.     It is recognized that some examiners may be asked to provide opinions regarding necessary work restrictions, accommodations, interventions, or causation. Nevertheless, the determination as to whether or not a recommended restriction or accommodation is reasonable for the specific case and agency is a determination to be made by the employer, not the examiner.

19.     The examiner's findings and opinions are based on all data available at the time of the examination. If additional relevant information is obtained after completion of the FFDE or if it is determined that the original evaluation was based on inaccurate information, the employer may request that the examiner reconsider his or her conclusions in light of the additional information. Reconsideration or re-evaluation also may be indicated in circumstances where an employee, previously deemed unfit for duty, subsequently provides information suggesting his or her fitness has been restored.

20.     Decisions concerning whether and how the findings and opinions resulting from the FFDE are to be communicated to the examinee should be disclosed to all parties in advance of the examination whenever possible. Such decisions should be governed by standards of professional ethics, clinical considerations, statutory and case law, and any prior agreements with the employer and examinee.

21.     Some agencies may find differences of opinion between or among the examiner and other health care professionals. Employers should be prepared to address these differences if they arise. In such cases, the employer may find it helpful to consider (a) any differences in the professionals' areas of expertise and knowledge of the employee's job and work environment, (b) the objective bases for each opinion, and (c) whether the opinion is contradicted by information known to or observed by the employer.

22.     Agencies should handle FFDE reports in conformance with legal standards governing an employer's treatment of employee medical records.    ■

Ratified by the IACP Police Psychological Services Section, Los Angeles, California, 2004


Officer-Involved Shooting Guidelines

These guidelines were developed to provide information and recommendations on constructively supporting officers involved in a shooting. The field experience of members of the IACP's Psychological Services Section suggests that following these guidelines can reduce the probability of long-lasting psychological and emotional problems resulting from a shooting incident. These guidelines are not meant to be a rigid protocol and work best when applied in a case-by-case manner appropriate to each unique situation.

Agency Protocol Recommendations
1.     Prior to any shooting incident, agencies are encouraged to train all officers, supervisors, and family members in acute stress and traumatic reactions and what to expect personally, departmentally, and legally after a shooting incident.

2.     Prior to any shooting incident, it is in the agency's best interest to establish a working relationship with a trained, licensed mental health professional who is experienced in the law enforcement culture as well as in providing post-shooting interventions. The department should notify the mental health professional as soon as possible and facilitate a post-shooting intervention by the mental health professional. Some guidelines for the mental health professional's intervention are addressed below.

3.     Immediately after an incident, provide physical first aid and communicate emotional support and reassurance to involved officers and other personnel.

4.     Offer the officer an opportunity to step away from the scene and away from media attention (by waiting at a remote location, for instance). When possible, place the officer with supportive peers or supervisors and return the officer to the scene only if strictly necessary. Personnel on the scene should help the officer follow departmental policies regarding talking about the incident before the initial investigation interviews. If the officer has an immediate need to talk about the incident, he or she should be provided with a resource that offers the officer confidentiality or privileged communication.

5.     Ideally, the officer should be provided with some recovery time before detailed interviewing begins. This can range from a few hours to overnight. Officers who have been afforded this opportunity are likely to provide a more coherent and accurate statements. Providing a secure setting, insulated from the press and curious officers, is desirable during the interview process.

6.     Explain to the officer what is likely to happen administratively during the next few hours and the reasons behind the planned actions. Within two days, explain the entire process of the investigation as well as any potential actions by the media, grand jury, or review board. Also, discuss any concerns raised by the officer. A summary of procedures can be provided in a written format that the officer can refer to during the first few hours after the incident.

7.     It may be helpful to provide an information sheet or booklet that reviews the body's response to shooting incidents and what the officer can do to facilitate recovery. The officer can refer to this information after the post-shooting intervention, and perhaps share it with significant others.

8.     If the officer's firearm has been taken as evidence, it should be replaced as soon as possible. When this is not possible, the officer should be told why and when the weapon is likely to be returned. Officers, especially those in uniform, may feel vulnerable when unarmed and become concerned that an administrative action has been undertaken. It is desirable to assign an armed companion officer to stay with the officer under these circumstances.

9.     If the officer has not been injured, the officer or a department representative should contact the family to inform them of the occurrence before other sources are able to do so. If the officer is injured, a department member, preferably one known to the family, should meet family members and drive them to the hospital. An offer to call friends, chaplains, etc. should be made to ensure that the family has an adequate support system available to them.

10.     It may be desirable to provide the officer with a few days of administrative leave to protect him or her from possible retaliation by the suspect and to allow the officer to marshal his or her natural coping skills to deal with the emotional impact of the incident. Make sure that the officer understands that this is an administrative leave, not a suspension with pay.

11.     It may be in the best interest of the officer and the agency to modify the officer's duties until the initial criminal investigation, internal shooting review board investigation, grand jury investigation, coroner's inquest, and district attorney's statements have all been completed. This practice protects the officer from potential legal and emotional problems that might arise from involvement in another critical incident before the first one has been resolved or from coming into contact with suspects or witnesses to the shooting while on the job.

12.     Agencies, in cooperation with the affected officer, should consider the readiness of an officer to return to regular duties. For example, it may be preferable to work a different shift or a different beat for a period of time. It may also be helpful to permit an officer to team up with a co-worker for several shifts.

13.     If the officer has a published home telephone number, it may be advisable to have a friend or telephone answering machine screen telephone calls to prevent any annoying or threatening calls from reaching the officer or family members.

14.     Whenever possible, an administrator should inform the rest of the department, or at least the officer's supervisors and his or her team, about the shooting. This practice will reduce the number of questions asked of those involved and will also help to deal with any rumors that may have arisen as a consequence of the event.

15. Agencies should make every effort to expedite the completion of administrative and criminal investigations and advise the officer of the outcomes as soon as possible. Lengthy investigations can cause distress to the officer.

16.     Departments should assess the reactions of any other involved emergency service personnel (including dispatchers) and provide appropriate interventions as described above.

17.     The option of talking to peers who have had a similar experience can be quite helpful to personnel at the scene. Peer support personnel may also be an asset participating in group interventions in conjunction with a mental health professional, and can be an asset in providing follow-up support. Family members may also greatly benefit from the peer support of family members or other officers who have been involved in shooting incidents. The formation and administrative backing of peer support and outreach teams for officers and family members may prove to be a wise investment after a shooting incident. However, peer support should never take the place of an intervention by a mental health professional.

18.     Personal concern and support for the officer involved in the shooting, communicated from high-ranking administrators, can provide an extra measure of reassurance and comfort. The administrator does not have to comment on the situation, or make further statements regarding legal or departmental resolution, but can show concern and empathy for the officer during this stressful experience.

19.     Shootings are complex events often involving officers; command staff; union representatives; internal affairs units; peer support teams; district attorneys; investigators; city, town, or county counsel; personal attorneys; city, town, or county politicians; the media; and others. Potentially involved parties may benefit from establishing locally acceptable procedures and protocols on handling these stressful, high-profile events to avoid conflict among the many different interests. Continued regular communication will help ensure smooth functioning and necessary adjustments.

Recommendations for Post-shooting Interventions by a Mental Health Professional
20.     A post-shooting intervention should be conducted by a licensed mental health professional trained to work with law enforcement personnel. Care should be taken in selecting a mental health professional to ensure that he or she has a strong educational background, knowledge and experience in the treatment of trauma, and a full spectrum of clinical experience with law enforcement in all types of mental health issues. The credentials and experience of the mental health professional are crucial in conducting post-shooting interventions. Law enforcement administrators are encouraged to examine the mental health professional's background for training and experience with interventions in a law enforcement setting.

21.     The initial post-shooting intervention should occur within one week after the shooting incident. The initial goal should be to reduce arousal and provide an opportunity for education and support. Your mental health professional may wish to break up an initial contact to provide information first, and then make a contact later to help the officer process what happened during the shooting. Other experienced police mental health professionals prefer an integrated contact initially.

22.     Each agency must decide if the post-shooting intervention will be voluntary or mandatory. Despite progress in the recognition of the place of mental health professionals in the field of law enforcement, many officers would still decline to participate if post-shooting interventions were offered solely on a voluntary basis. If the post-shooting intervention is mandatory and part of the standard operating procedure, this may help reduce the stigma of seeking help for the officer involved. However, voluntary interventions can reduce resentment and leave an officer feeling more in control at a time when the officer may feel he or she has lost control over what happens to him or her. An alternative is to require that an officer report to the department mental health professional and obtain any information or education that is available, but leaving the officer the option to participate, postpone or decline any intervention that requires sharing his or her personal experience. People reach the point of wanting to process an emotional experience at different times after an event. This can be dependent on other events and activities in an officer's life, the previous experiences with emotionally arousing events, or the individual's personal survival strategy and emotional defenses.

23.     It is recommended that post-shooting interventions be done during on-duty time.

24.     A single contact with a mental health professional may prove to be inadequate for officers who have been severely affected by an event. Also, a subset of officers may experience delayed onset of problems. Follow-up sessions should be made available to every officer involved.

25.     It should also be made clear that the post-shooting intervention is a privileged communication between the mental health professional and the officer involved. There should never be an attempt to gain information about what is said in these sessions by anyone without the permission of the officer.

26.     During the post-shooting intervention, there are numerous opportunities for the mental health professional to screen for unusual circumstances (past or present) that could intensify the impact of this particular incident on the officer. The mental health professional should also informally assess, for the sole purpose of voluntary referral, which officers may need additional or alternative types of assistance as part of their recovery process. If appropriate, referrals should then be offered to chaplains programs, peer support programs, additional counseling, and so on. Much of the time, the normalization process during the post-shooting intervention provides sufficient support to facilitate individual coping mechanisms. Frequently, after a life-threatening incident, officers are most concerned about how they reacted physiologically and emotionally, and whether these reactions were normal. Receiving reassurance during the post-shooting intervention frequently reduces worry, anxiety, and negative self-assessment. If not addressed, these reactions can frequently lead to more severe and chronic problems, and the need for treatment oriented services.

27.     All interventions that did not lead to ongoing contacts with the mental health professional should have follow-up contact or a phone call from the mental health professional within four months.

28.     Opportunities for a conjoint or family counseling session with the spouse, children, or significant others should be made available when appropriate.

29.     It should be made clear to all involved personnel and their supervisors that post-shooting interventions are separate and distinct from any fitness-for-duty assessments or administrative or investigative procedures. This does not preclude a supervisor from requesting a formal fitness-for-duty evaluation based upon concerns about the officer's ability to perform his or her job due to emotional or psychological issues. However, the mere fact of being involved in a shooting does not necessitate such an evaluation prior to return to duty.

30.     If a fitness-for-duty evaluation is required, it should not be provided by the mental health professional who did a post-shooting intervention with the officer. A department may choose to enlist the mental health professional who did the post-shooting intervention to help the officer make decisions about returning to duty. In that situation, the department must understand the officer has the right to privilege and confidentiality for anything said in the session that does not pose an imminent threat to self or others.

31.     In large-scale operations or incidents, group interventions may be beneficial. It is essential that the groups be screened so they contain individuals who responded to the same event, and that individual counseling referrals be available for those needing or wanting additional assistance. It is often not advisable for the primary officers (those who discharged their weapons) to be included in groups unless they truly desire it. The mental health professional and department administrators should consider legal ramifications caused by the changes in confidentiality and privilege that occur when information is processed in group settings. Legal considerations will vary from state to state. ■

Ratified by the IACP Police Psychological Services Section, Los Angeles, California, 2004


Peer Support Guidelines


1.     The goal of peer support is to provide all public safety employees within an agency the opportunity to receive emotional and tangible peer support through times of personal or professional crises and to help anticipate and address potential difficulties. A peer support program must have a procedure for mental health consultation and training. A peer support program is developed and implemented under the organizational structure of the parent agency.

2.     To ensure maximum utilization of the program and to support assurances of confidentiality, there should be participation on the steering committee by relevant employee organizations, mental health professionals, and police administrators during planning and subsequent stages. Membership on the steering committee should have a wide representation of involved sworn and non-sworn parties.

3.     Sworn peer support officers are officers first and peer supporters second. Any conflicts of roles should be resolved in that context.

4.     A Peer Support Person (PSP), sworn or non-sworn, is a specifically trained colleague, not a counselor or therapist. A peer support program can augment outreach programs, e.g., employee assistance programs and in-house treatment programs, but not replace them. PSPs should refer cases that require professional intervention to a mental health professional. A procedure should be in place for mental health consultations and training.

5.     It is beneficial for PSPs to be involved in supporting individuals involved in a critical incident such as an officer-involved shooting. PSPs also make an invaluable addition to group debriefings in conjunction with a licensed mental health professional. However, the IACP Police Psychological Services Section's Officer-Involved Shooting Guidelines recommend that a confidential post-shooting individual debriefing should be conducted by a licensed mental health professional.

6.     PSPs should be chosen from volunteers who are currently in good standing with their departments and who have received recommendations from their superiors and/or peers.

7.     Considerations for selection of PSP candidates include, but are not limited to, previous education and training; resolved traumatic experiences; and desirable personal qualities, such as maturity, judgment, and personal and professional credibility.

8.     A procedure should be in place that establishes criteria for de-selection from the program. Possible criteria include breach of confidentiality; failure to attend training; or losing one's good standing with the department. PSPs should also be provided with the option to take a leave of absence and encouraged to exercise this option, should personal issues or obligations require it.

9.     Relevant introductory and continuing training for a PSP could include the following:

  • Confidentiality Issues

  • Communication Facilitation and Listening Skills

  • Ethical Issues

  • Problem Assessment

  • Problem-Solving Skills

  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse

  • Cross-Cultural Issues

  • Medical Conditions Often Confused with Psychiatric Disorders

  • Stress Management

  • AIDS Information

  • Suicide Assessment

  • Depression and Burn-Out

  • Grief Management

  • Domestic Violence

  • Crisis Management

  • Nonverbal Communication

  • When to Seek Mental Health Consultation and Referral Information

  • Traumatic Intervention

  • Limits and Liability

10.     A formal policy statement should be included in the departmental policy manual that gives written assurances that, within limits of confidentiality, PSPs will not be asked to give information about members they support. The only information that management may require about peer support cases is the anonymous statistical information regarding the utilization of a PSP.

11.     A peer support program shall be governed by a written procedures manual that is available to all personnel.

12.     Individuals receiving peer support may voluntarily choose or reject a PSP by using any criteria they believe are important.

13.     Management could provide non- compensatory support for the PSP program.

14.     Departments are encouraged to train as many employees as possible in peer support skills.

15.     A peer support program coordinator should be identified who has a block of time devoted to program logistics and development. This individual would coordinate referrals to mental health professionals, collect utilization data, and coordinate training and meetings.

16.     The peer support program is not an alternative to discipline. A PSP does not intervene in the disciplinary process, even at a member's request.

17.     The steering committee shall identify appropriate ongoing training for PSPs.

Consultation Services From Mental Health Professionals
18.     PSPs must have a mental health professional with whom to consult. Ideally, this consultation would be available 24 hours a day.

19.     PSPs should be aware of their personal limitations and should seek advice and counsel in determining when to disqualify themselves from working with problems for which they have not been trained or problems about which they may have strong personal beliefs.

20.     PSPs should be required to advance their skills through continuing training as scheduled by the program coordinator.

21.     PSPs must inform department members of the limits of their confidentiality and consider potential role conflicts (e.g., supervisor providing peer support). These should be consistent with the law as well as departmental policy and may include the following:

  • Threats to self

  • Threats to specific people

  • Felonies as specified by the department

  • Serious misdemeanors as specified by the department

  • Child, spouse, and elder abuse

22.     PSPs should be trained to be sensitive to role conflicts that could affect future decisions or recommendations concerning assignment, transfer, or promotion. PSPs cannot abdicate their job responsibility as officers by participating in the program.

23.     PSPs must not volunteer information to supervisors and should advise supervisors of the confidentiality guidelines established by the department.

24.     PSPs must advise members that information told to them is not protected by legal privilege and that confidentiality is administratively provided and may not be recognized in court proceedings.

25.     PSPs should avoid conflicting peer support relationships. For example, PSPs should not develop peer support relationships with supervisors, subordinates, or relatives. PSPs should avoid religious, sexual, or financial entanglements with receivers of peer support and avoid espousing particular values, moral standards, and philosophies.

26.     A PSP must not keep written formal or private records of supportive contacts. ■

Ratified by the IACP Police Psychological Services Section, Los Angeles, California, 2004



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 9, September 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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