As a member of the Direct Decision Institute, Inc in Worcester, Massachusetts, my colleague Dr. Leo Polizoti, the Institutes senior lead psychologist, are charged with doing pre-employment psychological screening for all officers heading to a regional police academy across New England. There are details about the pre-employment process at the institute website: drdecision.org. One question I usually ask is: “Why do you want to be a police officer?” As you might expect, the answers are all well rehearsed and touch on: inspiring, decorated family members who were police officers, the personal desire to help people, or a memorable encounter with a member of law enforcement early in life. There are always others too.
A more curious inquiry might sound like this: “why would you want to be exposed to fatal car crashes, domestic violence, including intimate partner homicide, completed suicide and suicidal persons, sudden infant death, violent, intoxicated subjects, random citizen complaints, professional jealousy, long hours, and sometimes decrepit leadership?” I might even add: “if you want to help people why not become a nurse or high school teacher?”
As a police consulting psychologist my goal is to offer my best judgment about candidates for police officer. I offer my two cents worth of resiliency advice by painting a portrait of how they see themselves five years in the future. When asked what they expected in the pre-employment psychological interview one or two have said it was a “waste of time.” Now these men and women are in the minority, only 1 in 15 has said that in my last round of interviews. But just as importantly, going forward, these new officers are going to represent law enforcement and should be better prepared to embrace mental health awareness and the reduced stigma associated with behavioral health and human resilience. Most cops are starting to understand this. To say that a one hour meeting with the police psychologist was a “waste of time” reflects both the lack of understanding of personal well being and a blind spot in progressive policing. Mental health is everywhere in law enforcement on both sides of the badge.