Sunday, April 17, 2011

Forensic Psychology and Law Enforcement: Police and Investigative Psychology

      The relationship between law enforcement and psychology has improved over the years. Overall, we have seen an increase in the services provided by psychologists to the police community (Bartol& Bartol, 2004, PP. 120). This is partly because law enforcement agencies have become more professional and their administrators are better educated, and partly because the public has demanded more accountability on the part of police. Forensic Psychologists provide assistance to law enforcement agencies across the country in two different categories: police psychology and investigative psychology (Bartol& Bartol, 2004, PP. 128). Police psychology involves the provision of psychological services to law enforcement while investigative psychology refers to the application of psychological science to assist law enforcement in conducting criminal investigations (Bartol& Bartol, 2004, PP. 131).
Police Psychologists play vital roles in the employment and maintenance of police forces. They are often called upon to do pre-employment psychological screening, where they will assess and evaluate the potential new police officer's personality, psychology, intelligence, and overall fit for the line of work (Ostrov, 1986, PP. 355). In addition to pre-employment evaluations, police psychologists may assist with scheduling, educating officers to deal with stress and anger management and assist police officers in dealings with mentally disabled persons (Ostrov, 1986, PP. 358). Police psychologists also provide services with critical incidents, excessive force issues, shootings, police suicides and psychological issues, fitness-for-duty evaluations, and with special unit evaluations (Ostrov, 1986, PP. 360). Critical incidents are situations involving tragedies and deaths, injuries, and life-threatening situations. This area also includes hostage situations and negotiations, though not all police psychologists are involved directly in hostage negotiations. Police psychologists might also be called upon to provide counseling services for officers as well as their families, which can include family and marital issues, divorce, loss, injury, and stress (Ostrov, 1986, PP. 362).
Investigative psychology is perhaps the newest area of specialization for forensic psychologists. It focuses on identifying features of a crime and likely characteristics of its perpetrator. Investigative psychology includes broader areas, such as psychological autopsies, Geographical profiling and the polygraph (Jamel & Adler, 2005, PP. 143).  Psychological autopsies—more formally called reconstructive psychological evaluations—are performed after a person has died and the cause of the death is uncertain or equivocal. The psychologist conducting the autopsy tries to reconstruct the victim’s behavior and thought processes leading up to the death (Jamel & Adler, 2005, PP. 144). This procedure is often used in cases of apparent but questionable suicide. Psychological autopsies are also used—though less frequently—in civil cases in an effort to determine whether a third party may have contributed to the death. For example, an employer may have failed to respond appropriately to signals of extreme emotional distress or threats of suicide. As yet, there is no established, standard method for conducting a psychological autopsy, and its validity has yet to be demonstrated (Jamel & Adler, 2005, PP. 145).
Geographical profiling analyzes spatial characteristics of a crime along with behavioral characteristics of offenders deduced from the crime scene to yield probabilities of a perpetrator residing in a particular location (Gudjonsson, 2003, PP. 160). Geographical profiling is used primarily to solve serial crimes, in which a pattern of offending occurs over time. It is more likely to yield positive results when combined with criminal profiling, although we must caution that the scientific status of the final remains in question (Gudjonsson, 2003, PP. 162).
Polygraph - Like profiling -is not strictly an investigative technique in the narrow sense because it is used in a wide variety of criminal and civil contexts. In law enforcement, it is used primarily in the selection of candidates for law enforcement positions and much less in criminal investigation (Nelson, 1972, PP. 225). Results from polygraph tests are not admitted into courts to be used against criminal defendants, but they have been allowed in some courts to support a defendant’s contention that he or she did not commit the crime (Nelson, 1972, PP. 225). It appears that the polygraph is also being used more extensively in counterintelligence and by federal agencies than it has been in the past. Like the other techniques, the polygraph has not garnered impressive research results with respect to reliability and validity. Nevertheless, some researchers do support its use in limited situations and when administered by highly trained polygraphers (Nelson, 1972, PP. 225).
Forensic psychology role had the most increase in value and significance in law enforcement in the last two decades in two separate sub-disciplines: police and investigative psychology. The work of the psychologist within the criminal justice system can certainly take many routes depending on the specialism of the particular psychologist. From aiding the police in their investigations, advising in the selection of police officers, fitness-for-duty evaluations, conducting psychological autopsies, Geographical profiling and the polygraph , carrying out research or imparting their own knowledge to future criminal psychologists, the work is varied and challenging.
Bartol, C. & Bartol, A. (2004). Introduction to Forensic Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gudjonsson, G. H. (2003). Psychology brings justice: the science of forensic psychology.
            Criminal Behaviour & Mental Health, 13(3), 159-167. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Jamel, J., & Adler, J. R. (2005). Forensic Psychology: Concepts, Debates and Practice.
International Journal of Police Science & Management, 7(2), 143-145. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Nelson, O. S. (1972). Review of "Legal Psychology". Journal of Applied Psychology, 16(2),
            225-226. doi:10.1037/h0065287
Ostrov, E. (1986). Police/law enforcement and psycholgy. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 4(4),
            353-370. doi:10.1002/bsl.2370040402


Alyssa Frazier said...

I think that this was also a well written and thought out blog. I knew that forensic psychology played a part in the criminal justice system, however I had no idea that id did so as much as it does. I think that it is great that the forensic psychologists are able to help police when they go through a traumatic event because that is something that is very hard for the officer. Without help psychological problems can occur and can cause problems for the officer. I think that forensic psychology is an interesting career, and I wish you good luck in that field!

Psychological Assessment said...

It could be problems with visual or verbal memory. It could be that their brain cannot track and scan written text as quickly as most people.

Anonymous said...

really effective information really helpful