Mental woes can kill career chances
Police recruits under scrutiny
Florida Today, FL
BY J.D. GALLOP
October 23, 2007
[Excerpts] ...At a time when police training emphasizes responses to terrorism, mass shootings, domestic violence calls and even code enforcement issues, police academies and psychologists are growing increasingly sophisticated in gauging how prospective officers react to traumatic situations emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. That means the use of an ever expanding battery of screenings, interviews, background checks, lie detector tests -- even examinations of recruits' blogs and online social pages like MySpace -- to pinpoint patterns of behavior, maturity levels and responses to situations. "In the past, officers saw their role as one of keeping order and saw social work as something different," said Dr. Susan Saxe-Clifford, a California-based psychologist and editor of the Police Psychology Online journal. "But over the years the jobs have melded. (Officers) really have to have the ability to manage everything that comes their way..." Police academies and law enforcement agencies in Brevard County and elsewhere have watched as the psychological evaluations expanded to cover cultural changes, fears about terrorism and maturity levels in an increasingly younger pool of recruits, Saxe-Clifford said. For example, comments about race and women that would have been dismissed as "guy talk" in the male-dominated departments of decades ago could land a recruit a date with a therapist today. And questions about domestic violence and a recruit's personal relationships are covered much more thoroughly in today's exhaustive evaluations than in years past, Saxe-Clifford said. "You want somebody responsive, intuitive and with a strong work ethic, someone who will take action," Saxe-Clifford said"... The psychological screenings, which can occur throughout an officer's career, thanks to the efforts of police unions, drew national attention earlier this month after a 20-year-old Wisconsin sheriff's deputy named Tyler James Patterson went on a shooting rampage, killing six people at a teen party... Patterson, who worked for a rural department, was never psychologically screened. Investigators say a failed relationship with a former girlfriend and an insult at the party sparked the violence... IN FLORIDA, THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS ARE NOT MANDATORY... Administrators at BCC's Criminal Justice Center, which offers the county's only law enforcement training program, constantly scrutinize the conversations, demeanor and interaction of their 120 academy students... "We Google people. We check out their MySpace pages. . . If we find something inconsistent like that then that's something we want to examine more closely," Reynolds said. The academy also uses the popular Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a 567-question test featuring deliberate non-sequiturs covering a recruit's sleep habits and levels of anger. The $120 test is given only when a recruit has a job offer... Along with refined psychological screenings and stress awareness classes for recruits, police agencies over the last decade have stepped up stress intervention efforts for officers involved in deadly or traumatic situations. Most agencies now have Critical Response Teams made up of officers and counselors who meet with police at crime scenes... Peer-to-peer groups also have been put in place at several agencies, ready to help officers talk about problems. Therapy sessions are offered once a stress-related issue is spotted...