Importance of psychology in police work

What is Police Psychology and Is It a Career for You?

What is Police Psychology?

Police psychologists are licensed clinical psychologists with specializations in the forensic field. They are experts in situations such as:

- How to select officers responsible for community safety
- How to help public safety officials cope with crisis or violence
- How to maintain organizational integrity within public safety

There are many specific examples where a psychologist needs additional training to meet the demands of those who work in the world of police and public safety. The field contains individuals who are much more likely to witness violent crimes, life and death situations, and the subsequent effects of these traumatic instances.

What Do Police Psychologists Do?

The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies the four main areas of police psychology as:

1. Assessment
2. Clinical Intervention
3. Operational Support
4. Organizational Consultation

According to the APA Police and Public Safety division, police psychologists work with branches like “law enforcement, fire departments, nuclear regulatory agencies, emergency medical services, and other public safety entities.” These fields work together to find solutions during public crisis situations, escalating mental health episodes, and domestic violence incidents to name a few.

Psychological assessments are vital for ensuring employees in the police and public safety field perform to their best ability. Police psychologists conduct assessments for public safety officers, such as background checks during the pre-employment process in addition to Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations (FFDE) and Police Officer Standards and Training (POST). 

FFDE’s are useful for employers to assess their employees’ capabilities within the work environment and evaluate an individual’s psychological fitness. The IACP provides a guideline detailing Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations. Nancy Ryba Panza Ph.D., who works as a police and forensic psychologist, covers a course on improving the use of Police Officer Standards and Trainings (POST) in pre-employment psychological evaluations. 

Clinical Intervention

Police psychologists are responsible for the psychological care of public safety officials, which involves Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) and stress management. Police psychologists are clinical psychologists, so they are able to provide traditional counseling. In partnership with the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology, Dr. Bohl-Penrod and Dr. Brower comment on the impacts and interventions in Critical Incident Response.

The process of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing is essential in a high-risk work environment where stress and trauma are frequent occurrences. Police psychologists help police officers and law enforcement agencies process the aftermath of psychologically distressing tasks in a group setting. Processing trauma is a crucial step to encourage the psychological longevity of public safety officials and to reduce the long-lasting emotional effects of their work.

Operational Support

Professionals in police psychology aim to reduce tension on the limited resources available in the mental health industry by training police with proper intervention and assessment skills. Police psychologists provide operational support in situations ranging from hostage negotiation to criminal profiling.

Police psychologists are responsible for educating law enforcement agencies on managing harm-reduction, mitigating bias, and promoting diversity. Additional examples of operational support include particularly unique situations at the intersection of mental health and forensics like hate crimes or cyberstalking.

Organizational Consultation

Organizational consultation refers to when police departments seek advice on promoting and maintaining the best institutional practices with expertise. Police psychologists combine their forensic and psychological field expertise to understand organizational efficiency, like recruitment and retainment, in public safety environments.

For example, the Oakland Police Department outlines a Framework for Reimagining Public Safety and establishes five focus areas. One area of focus deals with the decision to focus police efforts on violent crime by no longer responding to calls about the homeless population. This situation highlights where a police psychologist possesses the experience to provide valuable input.

Police, Public Safety Officials, and their Mental Health

Due to the stressful nature of the work, police with critical incident exposures are more likely to develop depression symptoms, PTSD, and suicidal intentions. Police psychology contributes toward limiting environmental work stressors and contributing to a healthier environment for police and public safety officials.

There is more public support to back research and provide evidence-based solutions to the psychological problems police and safety officials face. In a recent report from American University with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Re-Envisioning Police Training in the U.S. covers discourse surrounding the national police climate, ethical leadership, institutional barriers, funding, and many more pertinent topics to the forensic community. 

CONCEPT Professional Training provides education specialization for various police and public safety institutions including the Juvenile Probation in Bexar County, Texas, the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, and the South Dakota Department of Social Services. 

As long as there are working professionals in police and public safety, there remains a need for police psychologists to understand the unique issues within the setting. Public safety officers ensure community welfare when they obtain the skills necessary to connect the public with long-term solutions.  

To further understand how police and public safety research translates into clinical practice, explore this quick read on why eliminating biased policing is vital for improving perceptions of police legitimacy. 

Is It a Field for You?

With a police psychology job, you’ll use forensic psychology to help improve law enforcement.

There’s a reason most people think of the police as heroes. Whether responding to a shooting, natural disaster, terrorist attack, or fender bender, police officers help keep us safe and maintain order. It’s not an easy job. But police psychologists across the U.S. are using the principles of forensic psychology to help police departments and officers continue to perform their jobs at the highest level. With a career in police psychology, you can help too. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Forensic Psychology and What Is Police Psychology?

Forensic psychology, simply put, is where psychology and the criminal justice system meet. Those with forensic psychology jobs use the scientific principles of psychology to perform a wide variety of roles such as assisting crime scene investigators, performing forensic assessment of suspects, counseling inmates at correctional facilities, consulting with defense attorneys and prosecutors, helping design crime-prevention programs, and working with police.

Police psychology is the part of forensic psychology that works with police. Police psychologists use the science of psychology to provide a number of important services that support police work, police officers, and police departments.

What Does a Police Psychology Job Entail?

Police psychologists can perform a variety of roles within law enforcement. The most common tasks of police psychologists include:

  • General counseling of police officers: Police officers experience a lot of on-the-job stress. A recent study showed that this stress puts officers at a higher risk for suicide and for developing medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and brain cancer. 1 To help officers cope with and avoid the health consequences of stress, police psychologists offer counseling services designed specifically for the needs of law enforcement.
  • Helping police officers learn to deal with life-or-death situations: According to investigative reporting by The Washington Post, 987 people were shot and killed by U.S. police in 2017.2 While shootings occur in only a small fraction of police encounters with civilians, minimizing police shootings is a priority for police departments around the nation. Police psychologists help with this effort by training police officers to properly assess/identify potential threats and respond in ways that protect the lives of police and citizens.
  • Helping police officers avoid or overcome PTSD: From responding to murder scenes and fatal traffic accidents to subduing violent criminals, police officers often witness and/or experience traumatic events. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise that studies show anywhere from 19% to 34% of police officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).3 Since PTSD is potentially debilitating, police psychologists work with officers on strategies for handling traumatic events and for overcoming the symptoms of PTSD.
  • Helping police departments hire good officers: Experts in policing believe ideal police officers exhibit initiative, a sense of ethics, respect and knowledge of laws, communication skills, common sense, civility, a service mentality, humility, a controlled temper, and a thirst for new knowledge.4 By assisting with the interview process and developing written tests that assess character and personality, police psychologists help police departments find and hire officers who possess the right traits.
  • Assisting in interrogations and negotiations: Not everyone in police psychology focuses on the mental health and stability of police officers. Some help the police solve crimes and prevent tragedies. For example, police psychologists who specialize in interrogation help interview and/or interpret the interviews of suspects and victims. Other police psychologists, who are trained in negotiation, help defuse hostage situations.
Which Type of Psychology Degree Can Help You Start a Police Psychology Job?

Police psychology can be one of the most rewarding careers in psychology. If you think it’s the right career path for you, then you should consider earning an MS in Forensic Psychology with a specialization in Police Psychology. Through this specialized master’s program in forensic psychology, you can gain the skills you need to help the police do their job better.

Are you worried you don’t have time to earn a master of science in forensic psychology? Online education offers a solution. When you earn an MS in Forensic Psychology online, you don’t have to worry about living near a campus or rearranging your schedule to attend class. Instead, a forensic psychology online program allows you to study from home and on a flexible schedule designed for working adults. With such a high level of convenience, online learning has made it more possible than ever to complete a graduate program in forensic psychology.

If you want to start or advance a career in police psychology, the right online psychology degree can give you the education you need.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Forensic Psychology program with a specialization in Police Psychology online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

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The specifics of the activities of a psychologist in the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs

One of the most important branches of psychology, which is rapidly developing, despite the relatively recent formation as a separate branch, is legal psychology.

Psychology as a science covers all spheres of human life, including the manifestations and use of psychological knowledge, patterns in the field of legal regulation and legal activity, and also due to the peculiarities of the studied area in psychology, increasing the effectiveness of lawmaking, law enforcement, law enforcement and penitentiary activities [1 , c. 22]. nine0005

To date, the concept of the personnel policy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation has determined the main parameters of work with personnel that meet the requirements entered into the document by the Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev on September 2, 2013, order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia No. 660 "On approval of the Regulations on the basics of organizing psychological work in internal affairs bodies Russian Federation” [4].

The main task of psychological support in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation is to work with the psychological potential of the personality of police officers, normalize the mental state, increase the efficiency of operational activities, paying attention both to the individual employee and to the work of the team as a whole [7, p. 23]. nine0005

As in any other field of activity, where the main work is, first of all, cooperation with people, work in the internal affairs bodies, like others, needs psychological preparation. Persons entering the Ministry of Internal Affairs should consciously understand the tasks of their activities and the whole picture of a possible threat in emergency situations. Therefore, all applicants undergo a mandatory psychological examination, in the form of significant work with a full-time psychologist. First of all, this is a conversation and a survey with applicants, where you can identify the nature of a person's interaction with other people [6, p. 234]. Acquaintance with a personal file, and identifying unwanted items in a person's biography. Also, more attention is paid to personality diagnostics, with the help of basic methods, temperament, character accentuation, a method for diagnosing the level of subjective control and methods that reveal the degree of aggressiveness are revealed. Based on the specifics of work in the Department of Internal Affairs, members of the team can also pass various tests for stress resistance, because this factor is the most important in the work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. nine0005

Usually, young people who are formed as a holistic personality, which includes moral and ethical, cognitive, motivational, moral, emotional and volitional components, go to work in the law enforcement system.

From a personal conversation, it can be revealed that the motives of a young man reflect the desire to become an investigator, lawyer, prosecutor and the need to fulfill their official duties. In the cognitive sphere, the candidate has an idea that he will face tasks related to professional activity and all its aspects related to various professional situations, the ability to see himself as a specialist. nine0005

It is also worth noting the emotional stability of a young specialist when working with crime, self-confidence and self-confidence, as well as overcoming various obstacles. Volitional qualities, as one of the main areas, reflect concentration, diligence in the performance of a professional task by a young specialist.

The purpose of the interview is mainly the primary assessment of the objective success of the applicant for the service, i.e. recommendations, references, characteristics, diplomas, certificates of honor, as well as any additional data on the applicant. nine0005

Along with this, issues related to [5, p. 83]:

  1. Features of the worldview
  2. Value Attitudes
  3. Addictions, lifestyle, relationships in the family
  4. Attitude to the future profession, his ideas about the upcoming work.
  5. nine0035

    Vasiliev V. L. identifies 5 types of professional motivation that must be established during the interview [2, p. 413]:

    1. Adequate
    2. Situational
    3. Conformist
    4. compensatory
    5. Criminal nine0028

    In addition to organizing recruitment, the psychologist also has the right to cooperate with other departments in the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The use of psychological knowledge makes it possible to resolve most of the problems in certain situations. The work of a psychologist is about helping both employees and victims. As for assistance to employees, here we can note the work with investigators, employees of the pre-trial detention center, riot police and other law enforcement agencies. Since this work is directly related to the fight against crime, there is a high probability of stressful situations. In these cases, the psychologist is always competent in resolving conflicts, both intrapersonal and collective. First of all, this is an individual approach to a person, the correct diagnosis of a person, the choice and application of approximate situations, and techniques for resolving conflicts. nine0005

    The role of a psychologist as an expert consultant in solving criminal cases is also important. There are many different situations in which the help of a psychologist is needed, for example, the disclosure of serial murders committed on sexual grounds, ritual arson and explosions, rape and other serious crimes, planning the initial stage of disclosing the criminal activities of an organized criminal group.

    According to Vasiliev V.P., this type of assistance is of an extra-procedural nature. i.e. as reference information for the investigation. This can be data on personal characteristics of perception, thinking, memory, developmental features of children and the elderly, the nature of behavior in alcohol and drug intoxication, the state of affect, stress, severe fear. With regards to group crimes, here the psychologist can provide information to the investigation about the nature of the relationship in this criminal group, the distribution of roles, the presence of leaders, and contribute to the search for a vulnerable link. According to Art. 133 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, a psychologist can also be involved in the production of investigative actions, such as a search, inspection of the scene, interrogation. The results received from the psychologist are recorded in the protocol [2, p. 452]. nine0005

    The work of a psychologist with the accused involves a specific diagnosis of the individual, a conversation, as well as assistance. Help for the accused is to make the detainee understand the favorable disposition of the psychologist [3, p. 109]. The very detention entails the formation of stress in the accused, so the psychologist is competent to work out with the accused those experiences that interfere or, on the contrary, will contribute to the introduction of the case.

    The law provides for the presence of a psychologist-teacher in the staff to conduct cases with minors and minors. The task of the psychologist-teacher is to help not only the investigation, but also the child himself when choosing between the criminal and the peaceful world, in no case not to insist on settling in a boarding school and in a colony for juveniles, as it leads to critical consequences, due to the fact that the socialization of this child takes place in places of detention with a certain type of people. The psychologist can correct the wording and introduction of the interrogation with this minor child, provide information to supplement the data of the investigation. Also important is the participation of a psychologist in the production of investigative actions in relation to persons with mental disabilities, diseases, where contact is established, questions are being adjusted taking into account the cognitive ability of the accused. nine0005

    Summing up, we can say that a psychologist, who is a member of a number of structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, performs an enormous amount of work, performing his functions as an expert and consultant. A psychologist must have a developed analytical thinking, have such a quality as erudition, since today more than half of the criminals have a higher education. A specialist must be competent in any situation, competent in relation to both parties and have a great desire to help people. nine0005


    1. Andreeva G. M. Social psychology, Moscow: Aspect Press, 2012. - 375p.
    2. Vasiliev V. L. Legal psychology. St. Petersburg, 2014. — 520s.
    3. Geizhan N.F. Professional training of practical psychologists for law enforcement agencies / N.F. Geizhan // Bulletin of the St. Petersburg University of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, 2008. No. 3–220s. nine0028
    4. Endrzheevsky A.A. Moral and psychological support of the operational activities of the Department of Internal Affairs: the state and main ways of improvement. [Electronic resource] / A. A. Endrzheevsky // Journal: Psychopedagogy in law enforcement agencies No. 1 (56) / 2014. - Access mode: sluzhebnoy-deyatelnosti-ovd-sostoyanie-i-osnovnye-puti-sovershenstvovaniya Date of access: 02/07/2016. nine0028
    5. Myagkikh N. I. Problems of professional selection when entering the service in the Department of Internal Affairs / N. I. Myagkikh // Economic Bulletin of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, 2006. No. 11. - 97p.
    6. Marin M. I. et al. Psychological support for the activities of the police department in extreme conditions. - M .: GUK and KP of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, 2013. - 308p.
    7. Seliverstov V.I. Scientific and methodological support for the activities of the psychological service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia / Department of educational work of the GUKiKP of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, TsOKP of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, 2004. - 120p. nine0028

    Psychologist in uniform - about cunning operas and the selection of candidates for police service - Moscow 24, 06/19/2015 the quality of a police officer is the most important thing? As part of the Faces of Order project, correspondents talked with Interior Ministry psychologist Daria Turchenkova about her role in the law enforcement career and her outlook on life.

    – Why do the police have their own psychologists? nine0005

    – Firstly, psychologists deal with personnel matters. In particular, we evaluate applicants for employee positions. Psychologists also diagnose current police officers who plan to climb the career ladder in the near future. Secondly, we are engaged in psychological support for personnel: we conduct classes, provide assistance and support to those in need.

    – What kind of people are suitable for police work?

    – I myself often ask myself this question and formulate for myself guidelines and criteria that guide me. The first priority is morality. Everything else is layered on top. The main thing is what is inside a person. This may be, so to speak, the original purity or, conversely, a lack of morality. It is possible that a person already comes into the world with a negative or positive charge - he has either light or darkness inside him. It is this inner state that I focus on first of all. Or he makes a certain kind of choice in favor of one of two possible directions. Of course, in addition to this, childhood traumas and other deformities play a role, which we also identify and take into account. nine0005

    - Are there any special qualities that are needed by the officers of different police departments?

    - Definitely. Opera should be cunning, transform, merge with the environment. The investigator is not so alive, he is an analyst, a thinking person. His task is to integrate into the world of the suspect, to understand the course of his thoughts. Guards are more about rules, good reaction, physical training. All these qualities are very important, but the question is always how a person realizes them, how he acts at one time or another, what goals he pursues and what he stands for. nine0005

    – Has it ever happened that non-standard personalities came to get a job?

    - There were cases when a candidate opened the door with his feet and generally showed impudence and bad manners. But once a man came to interview with his mother. She controlled him at every step, to the point that she filled out written tests with him. It took a lot of effort to separate them from each other. Thus, immaturity and lack of autonomy in decision-making may be grounds for a negative recommendation. nine0005

    Photo: Yarotsky

    - Has it ever happened that you turned people down after the first interview, and, returning after a while, again, he got a job?

    - This happens. In accordance with regulatory documents, after six months, we are obliged to re-examine a person if he comes again. However, in some cases, when, for example, we are talking about obvious violations of thinking, it makes no difference how much time has passed since the first meeting - the problem will not go away. If this is not the point, then a turning point may come in a person’s life, when cardinal changes will occur in his mind and he will reconsider his views - then the person changes and may be suitable for service. nine0005

    – What kind of relationship do psychologists have with their clients?

    – On the one hand, we make a selection: it depends on us whether a person is allowed to work. In this sense, we come into conflict with the candidates. On the other hand, we must be friends with those who have become our colleagues, otherwise it will not be easy to help them in a difficult situation. Therefore, our relationship must be trusting. So the position of psychologists, in my opinion, has its own contradictions.

    - Do you use the skills acquired at work in your communication with family and friends? nine0005

    - Everything is ambiguous here. Sometimes they turn to me because I have accumulated a certain amount of knowledge. When loved ones have difficulties, I can provide them with professional help, because thanks to experience I can find the fundamental roots of the problem. But, as a rule, psychologists and psychotherapists do not work with relatives and friends, because they are in personal relationships with them and cannot impartially get involved in the problem. Therefore, sometimes even if I see the essence of the situation, I prefer not to interfere and only in rare cases do I draw the person's attention to this.

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