Archive for the ‘Tests’ Category

Police Psychology | How Do We Find and Divert Violence Before It Happens?

Robert John Zagar PhD MPH and James Garbarino PhD

Homicide, suicide or mass murder, are two sides of a coin. Violence is either directed at others or at oneself. So how do we find violence?

Background checks miss violence 75% of the time. For interviews and judgment the figure is 54%, unstructured physical and psychiatric, 51%, and conventional ways combined miss 61% of violence. How can violencethis be if background checks miss 75%, interviews miss only 54%, or exams 51%?

When the current approaches are summed into an average, the combined approach is less than any one single approach. One would be better off tossing a coin than using these conventional ways. Yet 95% of the professionals persist in “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Einstein defined this as insanity.

This fixation with ineffective approaches is costly.  In the United States, work productivity losses due to violence range from $1,000,000 – $5,000,000 per victim, whether it’s homicide, suicide or mass murder. (more…)

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Police Psychology | Thoughts on Fitness for Duty Evaluations

by Elizabeth Thompson, Psy.D.

Thompson & Associates

Guest Blogger

I received a telephone call from a Deputy Chief recently regarding the attempted suicide of an Officer that I had evaluated for Fitness for Duty over a year ago. The Officer had severe PTSD and could never return to work in spite of various interventions. I remember having talked to the Officer when I re-evaluated him after three months of therapy and discussing other options besides police work. He seemed open to the idea of change and realized that his PTSD would make it impossible for him to work as a police Officer. Now, a year later he tried to kill himself. It seems that he was never able to define himself as anything other than a police Officer and couldn’t see a life outside of the Department.

When we do Fitness for Duty Evaluations we make it clear that our client is the Department that hired us and yet we also have an obligation to the Officer whose life and livelihood is in our hands. This creates a dual relationship in spite of our making clear that the Department is our client. After all, we have created a relationship with the Officer because we are assessing that Officer for psychological fitness. In that process, we learn a great deal about the Officer which, in a sense, creates a relationship and perhaps some obligation. (more…)

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Laurence Miller, PhD

BALTIMORE (Associated Press) — “A psychological firm paid to evaluate troubled Baltimore police, including a lieutenant charged in the killing of Freddie Gray, is under investigation by the city and has been put on probation by the state police for cutting corners in its mental health screenings of officers. An investigation showed that the company’s psychologists were completing evaluations of officers’ mental stability in 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes required by the state contract. Experts say 15 minutes is far too short to adequately conduct psychological assessments, either for police applicants or officers seeking to return to active duty.” (

Reports from my police psychologist colleagues and communications from police officer applicants who feel like they’ve been unfairly bumped from consideration for law enforcement positions suggest that the above story is not an isolated incident. Accordingly, it’s important to appreciate the proper role of psych screenings in the law enforcement hiring process.

Why do a psych screening?

Law enforcement is a high-stress, people-intensive profession. Before a department invests the time and resources in hiring, training, and fielding an officer, it wants to be reasonably sure that officer will be able to perform his or her job, will not pose a risk or danger to the public, and won’t create a liability for the department.

What are they looking for?

Not paragons of mental health, just candidates that are reasonably stable, mature, and responsible. The law enforcement pre-employment psych screening is actually a rather course net designed to catch significant mental disturbance or personality disorder that would be incompatible with the role of a police officer. It is unlikely that an officer candidate with a severe psychotic, mood, personality, or substance abuse disorder would get through this net, but smaller psychological fish, such as erratic mood swings, narcissistic entitlement, under-the-radar alcohol misuse, or extreme prejudicial beliefs, just might wriggle through the meshwork. One common mistake of officer candidates is pretending to be too perfect and then getting bounced for dishonest exaggeration.

What does the exam consist of?

The exact content and procedure of pre-employment screenings can vary widely from agency to agency, but ideally, a competent pre-employment psych screen should contain at least two main elements: (1) a clinical interview; and (2) one or more standardized psychological tests. During the clinical interview, the psychologist asks a range of questions about the candidate’s background, work history, current lifestyle, any symptoms or problems she may be experiencing, and what his expectations are about the job.

A properly conducted law enforcement psychological interview should not feel like an interrogation; in fact, it shouldn’t be any more adversarial than other type of job

interview. The number of psychological tests employed may range from one to a dozen, but typically, between two and four well-standardized measures will be administered. In fact, the typical candidate spends more time hunched over a set of bubble tests with a number-2 pencil in his hand than he spends face-to-face with the psychologist. Another reason for answering questions honestly is that many of these tests have built-in measures for detecting inconsistency and exaggeration.

How are the results determined?

Usually, the examiner will weigh three things: (1) impressions from the clinical interview, (2) the psychometric test results, and (3) the material obtained from a review of the applicant’s past medical, employment, and other records. These factors are then placed into a kind of formula that yields one of several determinations, often expressed in terms of low, medium, or high risk of projected future performance problems on the job. The rationale for these conclusions is provided in the text of a written report that is then sent to the law enforcement agency’s hiring committee for them to consider along with all the other data they use to make the final hiring decision.

Who does these evaluations?

And that’s the crux of the problem. The quality of these assessments is only as good as the training, expertise, and experience of the evaluators. And as the title story indicates, contracts for these services are typically awarded to multi-staffed psychological “assessment centers” (which often do evals for firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety personnel as well as police departments) on a low-bid basis, who then recruit

psychological examiners to work on an independent-contract basis who, in turn, are willing to work on a high-volume, low-fee basis. So now you have the pleasure of knowing that the evaluator who’s making a determinative decision about your entire career got his or her job, not necessarily because of any special credentials or qualifications, but because he or she was the cheapest deal on the block.

Having said that, I know a number of very competent, very professional psychologists who do pre-employment screenings, and usually other types of police psychological work as well. But these are typically independent practitioners, not test-mill employees, and I guarantee they’re not doing their evals in 15 minutes – or even 45 minutes. Realistically, it’s going to take at least a couple of hours to conduct a valid pre-employment psychological screening for any high-level profession, including clinical interview, psych testing, and preparing the report.

Evaluators who cannot competently and ethically offer these services should not be doing this work, and law enforcement agencies who will not pay for valid screenings should not be hiring. The repercussions of sloppy assessments for clinicians is an erosion of trust in the field of psychology on the part of law enforcement personnel. The impact on police agencies may be felt in poorer quality of policing, increased citizen complaints, and higher liability to the department in negligent hiring and retention lawsuits, just one of which can erase the “savings” from retaining a low-bid assessment center many times over. The public expects police to be professionals; police agencies should expect no less from the psychologists who evaluate their personnel.

Laurence Miller, PhD is a clinical, forensic, and police psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific clinical or legal advice.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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The Police Candidate Interpretive Report


I had one of the first cell phones for public consumption.  It fit in a bag.  The battery lasted minutes not hours, and it was essentially a car phone that could be moved around.  But visions of Dick Tracy’s watch and Agent 86’s shoe danced in my head, and I walked around feeling real important when I pulled out my bag phone and made a call.  How sweet those youthful delusions were!

While I was running around looking for my Agent 99, Steven Jobs was getting fired from Apple.  But Jobs had vision and timing.  He knew when something was needed and he saw sort of saw into the future.  When he was rehired, he was going to hire a Pepsi Executive for Apple and asked him “do you want to make sugared water the rest of your life or change the world.”  Jobs then designed a new operating system that became the basis for IPhone, IPods and yes, an IWatch that you could talk into, straight from the old Dick Tracy cartoons.  My old fantasies are sort of dumb given they now exist.

I sat with the Steven Jobs of Police Psychology in Orlando Florida at an IACP Police Psychologists happy hour.  He wanted to get the American Psychological Association to recognize police psychology and tie police psychology practice into research.  In my best “Pinky and the Brain” imitation, I wanted to rule the world, or at least globalize the profession.  Through the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology I started trying to define exactly what tasks were in the profession, what did police psychologists actually do?  Across the country, my friend was starting the same task, so we combined efforts.  He later spearheaded the work making police psychology recognized by the American Psychological Association.  But his recent activity may be the most poignant for the practice of police psychology.

He took an old standard test in police evaluations that was recently reconstructed, and took tons of data and put it into a computer-generated report on how police officers can be selected for police departments.  Then he made it so the computer would generate not only statistical properties for the test, but also a list of references in the back tying the research to the employee behavior.   Literally, you could say I got this result and here are the references that support the denial of a job, or the calling of this person unfit for duty.  Forensic evaluations are always supposed to be referenced but seldom are.  Imagine going into the court and having all the references at your fingertips.  And it is an entirely transparent process.

Gone are the days when a psychologist looks at the scale and gets a feel for them being a good cop or not.  Now we can directly tie scores on the MMPI-2 RF to police officer behavior.  I remember Dr. Mike Aamodt’s book with all the meta-analyses saying basically none of the tests, except at the far reaches of the spectrum lead statistically to any decision.  There is really a new world out there and someone has seen how to make it more viable.

I don’t do testing as a matter of course, so probably I have some things wrong, but the intent is correct.  Dr. Dave Corey with excellent researcher Dr. Yossef Ben-Porath has really achieved his goal.  He gave police psychology the recognition by the APA that it deserves and he is making the field which he works in, employee screening and assessment, highly attached to research.  Kudos to him and to Pearson for publishing the Police Candidate Interpretive Report (PCIR).  It’s the IWatch of our profession.

As for me, I am still trying to rule the world.  Maybe if I write a blog….

 Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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