The delivery and conduct of Pre-employment Psychological Evaluations (PPE’s) are of high interest to members of the police and public safety communities as well as those in the psychology profession. These evaluations are crucial to candidates and the agencies to ensure that prospective employees are suitable for work in police and public safety. Professionals overseeing and conducting these assessments must follow the standards and consensus of the professional practice and, critically, must be consistent in the methodologies and judgments they use in their assessments.
In 2014, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Police Psychological Services Section updated their PPE guidelines, which are used by psychologists and public safety agencies responsible for executing and having defensible PPE programs. The IACP guidelines are “intended to balance agency and societal needs with the legal rights of candidates and the applicable professional standards of the examiner.” To maintain compliance with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, pre-employment psychological evaluations must be conducted post-offer. A provisional offer of employment proposes that the candidate has completed a background check, including but not limited to civil and criminal complaints, arrest history, credit, parking and motor vehicle violations, etc. and has met the departmental requirements for a potential position in public safety.
Departmental requirements may include an employment application, drug screen, physical health clearance, and physical testing. In addition, the candidate has demonstrated the cognitive, verbal and written skills compatible with the police position. However, each department likely has their own unique guidelines and requirements that must be satisfied for a candidate to receive the provisional offer of employment. Evaluators should know that each state has a Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or similar entity that establishes minimum selection standards for law enforcement officers.
Pre-employment evaluators should be a licensed clinical psychologist (LCP) who has specific training and experience conducting pre-employment psychological evaluations for public safety positions as well as an understanding general police psychology. The LCP should be able to identify, describe and quantify the police and public safety job responsibilities and potential stress of the public safety position. LCP’s should use test instruments that show empirical evidence supporting their use in the pre-employment evaluation and utilize tests that are designed specifically for public safety applicants. Further, the LCP should be able to defend and justify the use of a psychological test when assessing a candidate for a police and public safety position. Generally, a LCP who conduct pre-employment evaluations give a minimum testing battery than includes aptitude and personality testing. Personality testing should encompass tests that evaluate for psychopathology and “normal” personality traits.
Common tests used for pre-employment testing are the Wonderlic, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory 2 restructured form (MMPI-2-RF) police candidate interpretive report, Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) for law enforcement, corrections and public safety, Inwald Personality Inventory 2, 16- PF protective services report, etc.
The clinical interview usually covers developmental milestones, physical health, educational and work history, interpersonal relationships, substance use, legal and psychological history, and coping skills. When a LCP examines the candidate’s coping skills they should consider the candidate’s judgment, stress resilience, anger management, integrity, teamwork, and social competence. Overall, the LCP is evaluating the candidate’s ability to meet the behavioral, social, ethical, and cognitive demands of modern policing.
The LCP should use the testing results as well as the candidate’s interview to fully assess the candidate’s suitability. The LCP should look for instances in the interview where the candidate described examples of how they have handled stressful situations to assess how they might handle the complex social situations a police and public safety officer might engage. The LCP awareness of police culture is important to assess for this compatibility. The IACP suggests that “in most jurisdictions, the minimum requirements for psychological suitability are that the applicant be free from any emotional or mental condition that might adversely affect the performance of safety based duties and responsibilities and be capable of withstanding the psychological demands inherent in the prospective position.”
Prior to PPE, the applicant should sign and understand the objectives of the evaluation, the intended recipients, the limits of confidentiality, and that the client is the agency, not the individual applicant. Once the evaluation is completed, a written report should be given to the hiring agency not the applicant. The LCP should avoid using clinical or psychiatric diagnosis or labeling unless relevant to the LCP’s conclusions or where by law. The LCP cannot include the use of genetic information such as family history when making employment decisions due to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008. Therefore, a candidate could not be excluded because their family members have a history of cancer or mental illness.
During a PPE, an agency or LCP cannot use different norms or cutoff scores for protected persons. The civil rights act of 1991 says “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for a respondent, in connection with the selection or referral of applicants or candidates for employment or promotion, to adjust the scores of, use different cutoff scores for, or otherwise alter the results of, employment related tests on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The PPE report should focus on the applicant’s ability to safely and effectively perform the essential job functions and position within police and public safety. The report should have a clear determination of the applicant’s suitability. A PPE determination is usually expressed in one of two ways: low risk, medium risk or high risk for hiring; or acceptable, marginal or unacceptable for hiring.
The LCP should use the test data, clinical interview and the applicant’s background information to support their clinical decision. Clinical decisions are made on consistencies not solely derived from a single source of information or from one psychological test. The results of the applicant’s suitability are generally valid for one year unless otherwise established. If an agency allows a second opinion, as part of an appeal process, the repeated psychological evaluation should be based on the same requirements as the first.
American Psychological Association (2002). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.
American Psychological Association (2013). Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists. American Psychologist, 68, 7-19.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, §2, 104 Stat. 328 (1991).
Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub L. No. 102-166, 105 Stat 1071 (codified in various sections of 42 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1992).