The Role of Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations in Law Enforcement

Police employers have a legal duty to ensure that police officers under their command are mentally and emotionally fit to perform their duties, and failure to do so can result in significant civil liability to the employer and serious consequences. Occasionally, a law enforcement officer’s behavior raises concerns that the officer may be unstable, a physical danger to self and to others, or ineffective in discharging responsibilities. Such behavior may occur on or off duty and may include excessive force, domestic violence, lack of alertness, substance abuse, or other observable counterproductive behaviors. So-called red flags also may include threats to self or others, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations, or observed symptoms (for example, frequent crying, uncharacteristic irritability, and excessive suspiciousness) that may be due to psychological problems such as depression or anxiety or other psychological conditions or impairments. When such behavior occurs, and it is reasonably suspected to be attributable, at least in part, to an underlying psychological impairment or condition, a fitness-for-duty evaluation (FFDE) is often necessary to assess the nature of the psychological problem and its impact on job functioning.