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Selected Forensic Psychologist Roles in Policing

Forensic psychology roles that had the most increase in value and significance in policing in the last two decades are behavioral analysis and victim support services. Both specialist areas sill have considerable scope in development and application, but will require continuous scientific modeling and validation to improve the challenge of acceptance in criminal justice settings.

Forensic psychology roles that had the most increase in value and significance in policing in the last two decades are behavioral analysis and victim support services. Both specialist areas sill have considerable scope in development and application, but will require continuous scientific modeling and validation to improve the challenge of acceptance in criminal justice settings. Criminal profiling has a poor history of scientific significance in investigative processes, but was reinvented and broadened as investigative psychology in the late 1980s (Canter, 2010). Considerable effort was made to develop theories and hypotheses of criminal behavior, which was tested and modeled with real crime profiles. Behavioral analysis has two main approaches, namely predictive, where crime and behavior patterns, and distinctive features are analyzed to predict the personality, habits, and movements of a likely offender, and retrospective, where linkage analysis is applied to link a series of crimes to one perpetrator. Both approaches are only reliable and useful if they are based on scientific principles and practiced in close collaboration with forensic science investigations (Godwin, 2001). Ideally, the police psychologist will be part of a multidisciplinary team of investigators, police officers, legal representatives, and forensic scientists, and has to ensure that a common understanding and knowledge base is created and maintained in the team. He or she will add experience to the investigation in behavioral analysis, interviewing, psychological assessment of evidence, and operational guidance, and has to consistently share information and train team members in required skills. According to Rossmo (2009), tunnel vision is the “leading cause of wrongful convictions” (p. 14), and evidence bias is typically caused by premature assumptions. In the desire to solve a criminal investigation, police officers may become “so blind to the possibility of innocence that they ignore or withhold evidence consistent with it” (Klatzow, 2010, p. 216). It is therefore critical that the investigative psychologist strive to maintain objectivity and principles of scientific inquiry at all times, and instill these values in other team members and colleagues.

The second operational area where police psychologists are increasingly involved, and add value, not only to the reliability of witness statements and information, but also to the psychological welfare of others, is victim support services. According to Aumiller and Corey (2007), psychological services at the crime scene or soon thereafter, are at the intersection between the intervention and operational core domains of police psychology. Victim support services often have dual advantages, with external and internal benefits. Mental health support soon after a traumatic experience, often referred to as psychological first aid, is useful to reduce initial distress and initiate coping mechanisms. Exposing and training police officers in underlying principles of trauma support increases their discretion in dealing with trauma victims, including mentally impaired victims and offenders (Williams, Gallo, Maldonado, Brino, & Basso, 2000; Godfredson, Ogloff, Thomas, & Luebbers, 2010). Stabilizing victims emotionally and dealing with trauma immediately, also increases reliability of eyewitness testimony, as the information is retrieved soon after the event by a trained interviewer, thereby decreasing the “retention interval” (Yarmey, 2010, p.180) and guiding the process by accepted cognitive procedures. In conclusion, by scientifically approaching psychological aspects in criminal investigations, and providing crisis mental health support to victims, significant value is added to the investigative process and well-being of the affected individuals. It is a worthwhile and still under-utilized opportunity for police psychologists to complement traditional police processes with psychological expertise.

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