Every so often there is media exposure, even national coverage, of someone in the community sought for posing as a police officer. Among those in the department such news is typically met with a variety of emotions, from anger even rage, or displaced displeasure and annoyance. Where do these emotions come from? I would imagine much comes from all the hard work the men and women in law enforcement have done with the community and to see an “imposter” taint the reputation and prestige of the job. There is immense sacrifice these men and women give to wear the badge and that comes from intense and continual training, professional standards, working around the clock and on holidays, as well as the specific trials and tribulations of the job. Then someone steps in and assumes a role that has been earned with blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice by the legitimate folks in law enforcement. The gull of such an individual to present self as a police officer!
I think these emotions are understandable and I think that they are not unique to the law enforcement profession. Plumbers, electricians, teachers, among many other professions require specific developed skills and those skills are entrusted by consumers (i.e. community members). These skills are highly important and highly relied upon, which is why there is general standards for licensure for many professions. That is, licensure for professional practice, just as certification as a police officer, sets a minimum bar of competence to perform essential duties within the profession. As a psychologist I too can appreciate this, as there are considerable standards to meet state licensure to practice. However, in the field of psychology, not unlike the field of medicine or even the unique rolls within law enforcement, there are specialties. There are child specialty psychologists, just like there are Bomb/arson techs, and cardiovascular surgeons; each specialty requires additional training to meet the competence of their rolls, yet not all positions and specialties require additional licenses for their specialty. This is a fundamental point I try to make when departments are using a psychologist without background and the specialized competence in police psychology. Just because your agency has been using someone for a long time does not make that person a police psychologist. There are many “imposters” out there working in the field, yet neglecting the requisite training, knowledge, and experience of best practices. In Maryland for example, experience has led me to find many such “imposters.” A classic example relates to poorly conducted psychological evaluations that go against industry standards.
Just as the community is encouraged to ask law enforcement professionals for their identification if there is confusion over the authenticity of their position/authority, there are questions that can be asked to psychologists about training and continuing professional development in police psychology. Time doing the work is a less than adequate response; just like a police imposter may have been posing for a long time, so may a psychologist. Asking about professional membership AND conference/training attendance/contribution/publication, etc is important. Diplomate status in Police Psychology and/or Board Certification in Police and Public Safety Psychology too can be good indicators of genuine expertise. You are looking for ways to verify the legitimacy of competence of a psychologist who can competently perform this specialized work; a “general psychologist” is ill-advised. Due diligence in the front end in verifying the appropriateness of a psychologist can and will save an agency in more ways than one.